How to fulfil the promise of the Global Compact for Migration with a more effective roadmap in human rights protection

newsimageAbout the author Pia Oberoi is Advisor on Migration and Human Rights to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This article was written in her personal capacity and the views expressed therein do not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations. We must ensure the human rights of migrants who fall outside the refugee definition, with a real danger of these individuals falling in the growing gap between the two Compacts. Migration is not just a phenomenon or a ‘mega-trend’, nor merely a means to achieve development or alleviate demographic pressures, although these goals are laudable. At its heart, migration is fundamentally about people, individual human beings. And even a cursory glance at migratory routes and communities around the world reveals the human cost of migration today. Of course, many migrants are able to move in safety and dignity, truly able to benefit and contribute in the prized (albeit often mythical) ‘win-win-win’ scenario. Yet millions more are compelled to move in unsafe, irregular and (necessarily) disorderly ways, often leaving their homes because that is the only way they see to survive, and subject to human rights violations in transit and at destination. No one counts them, so for these migrants we do not have an equivalent of the infamous figure of 65 million forcibly displaced persons. Their vulnerability can be difficult to articulate and often remains uncategorised, so they live clandestine lives in the shadows constantly at risk of further abuse. Migrants who fall outside the refugee definition The understanding of who is a ‘migrant’ is contested. The UN Human Rights Office, in recognition of the lack of a universal legal definition has described the category as an umbrella term for those people who cross international borders and lack a citizenship attachment to their country of destination. For the purposes of this article, however, and in keeping with the logic of the Global Compact for safe, regular and orderly migration (GCM) which applies only to ‘non-refugees’ in order to mark a difference with the Global Compact on Refugees, this article is directed only to those people who would not meet the definition of a refugee within the 1951 Refugee Convention. Arguably, the foremost contribution of the GCM lies in its recognition that people must be at its centre, and accordingly in its promise to alleviate the risks and vulnerabilities that migrants face by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights. Protection of human rights also runs as a central thread through the New York Declaration, in which Member States of the United Nations pledged to combat with all the means at their disposal the abuses and exploitation suffered by countless refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations (emphasis added). The predicament of migrants in vulnerable situations, especially in the context of so-called ‘mixed movements’, often makes them, in reality, undistinguishable on the ground from refugees. ‘Mixed’ migration could be described as the cross-border movement of people who have a variety of protection profiles, reasons for moving and needs but who move along the same routes, use the same forms of transport or means of travel, and often travel irregularly. There is a compelling need to address critical gaps in ensuring the human rights of migrants who fall outside the refugee definition. In this respect there is a real danger of these individuals falling into the growing space that is opening up between the two Compacts. The rationale for enhanced attention to this group is provided both by the desperate circumstances of such migrants, as well as the imperative of the human rights framework to shine most light on those people in our societies who are marginalized, at risk of abuse, and in danger of being “left behind”. Migrants in vulnerable situations These migrants are people who could be leaving their countries out of necessity, rather than free choice, and for some of whom return is neither desirable nor feasible. Some move to escape adverse drivers such as poverty, food insecurity, denial of the right to health or access to justice, or the effects of climate change and environmental factors, or indeed a combination of these factors. Migrants who may have started their journeys whole and healthy can arrive at their destination having suffered profound trauma and abuse. Mig