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COMMITTEE ON MIGRANT WORKERS LAUNCHES JOINT GENERAL COMMENTS ON THE RIGHTS OF MIGRANT CHILDREN WITH A PANEL DISCUSSION

16 April 2018

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this afternoon held a panel discussion entitled “Putting migrant children’s rights upfront: challenges and duties in protecting the human rights of children in the context of international migration,” thus marking the launch of its joint General Comments with the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the human rights of migrant children.

Ahmadou Tall, Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, and Orest Nowosad, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered the opening remarks. 

The panellists were Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Pablo Ceriani Cernadas, Former Vice-Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers; Laurent Chapuis, Regional Migration Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia; Kristina Touzenis, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration; Anne Dussart, Caritas Internationalis – Belgium; and Pinar Aksu, Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention Advocate. 

In his opening remarks, Ahmadou Tall, Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that the current migration crisis across the world highlighted the fundamental importance of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Even though States had legitimate interests in securing their borders and in exercising their migration policies, those interests could not replace their international obligations to guarantee the rights of all persons living in their territory.  The joint General Comments favoured the implementation of global migration policies based on human rights in countries of origin, transit, destination and return, as well as the improvement of the implementation of children’s rights. 

Orest Nowosad, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded that migration was a survival strategy to cope with extreme poverty, but that it was also due to lack of human development, gender inequalities, discrimination, abuse and neglect, conflict and violence, political instability, socio-ethnic tensions, bad governance, food insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change.  Whether the focus was on lack of opportunities, conflict or human rights violations, migration was a daily reality, and the situation of children in the context of international migration was of major concern given their greater vulnerability to human rights violations. 

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, explained that the main objective of the joint General Comments was to provide guidance on the interpretation of the two Conventions in the context of children in migration.  The joint General Comments tried to place emphasis on the nature of State party obligations, to make a distinction between good practice and implementation, to connect the dots and clarify the obligations of States, and to push the boundaries in the context of children in migration.

Pablo Ceriani Cernadas, Former Vice-Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers, underlined the importance of the absolute prohibition of detention of children, of assessing the best interest of the child, guaranteeing social protection and equal treatment of all migrant children, and the inclusion of their parents in that process.  As for the impact of the joint General Comments, Mr. Ceriani Cernadas stressed the need to assess the policies currently in force, and the creation of tools for the prevention of the criminalization of migration.

Laurent Chapuis, Regional Migration Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, warned that unless there was a strong child protection system and staff, key procedures around age assessment, defining durable solutions, and reviewing whether returns were in the best interest of the child, could not be done as per required standards.  The United Nations Children’s Fund had looked at the importance of data on unaccompanied migrant children and children in detention, without which it was extremely difficult to mobilize political support and funding. 

Kristina Touzenis, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, expressed hope that the joint General Comments would lead to no detention for migrant children and for migrants in general, and that they would set forth practical forward-thinking solutions.  They provided a good example of countering the perception that rights were not practical.  The international community needed to demonstrate that rights were relevant for everyone.  The tension between sovereignty and protection of rights was artificial.  The two reinforced each other. 

Anne Dussart, Caritas Internationalis – Belgium, said that the two joint General Comments were strong documents, but she was concerned about what States would do with them.  The detention of migrant children in Belgium still did not fully respect children’s wellbeing and dignity.  It was necessary to discuss the best interest of the child with States, Ms. Dussart stressed. 

Pinar Aksu, Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention Advocate, described her own experience of being a migrant child and asylum seeker in the United Kingdom.  Together with her family, she had been held in several detention centres, which had not been much different from prisons.  Alternative measures to detention allowed migrants to stay in the community and combat negative stereotypes through human contact. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that the joint General Comments were the key coordination tools to address migratory flows in a coherent way, adding that without the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration, the joint General Comments would end up being papers on shelves.  Speakers also stressed that it was necessary to attack the myths about the cost of human rights.  More legal channels would better regulate migration.  The international community should be fearful about what not respecting human rights would cost societies, rather than the other way around.  No one spoke about how much running migration detention centres cost, and about the fact that they were hotbeds for all sorts of other violations.  Speakers stressed that it was not enough to have standards defined.  It was necessary to work with front-line workers to concretely operationalize those standards, and that was best done through the sharing of best practices.  Speaking in the discussion were the Philippines, Khedidja Ladjel, Member of the Committee on Migrant Workers, Save the Children, Ben Lewis of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prasad Kariyawasam, Member of the Committee on Migrant Workers, and Global Detention Project.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 20 April, in the afternoon to close its twenty-eighth session. Opening Statements AHMADOU TALL, Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, reminded that the launch concerned two joint General Comments elaborated by the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, namely the joint General Comment No. 3 (2017) of the Committee on Migrant Workers, and No. 22 (2017) of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the general principles regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration, and joint General Comment No. 4 (2017) of the Committee on Migrant Workers, and No. 23 (2017) of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on State obligations regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration in countries of origin, transit, destination and return.  The adoption of the joint General Comments in September and October 2017 had followed a wide-ranging process of consultations with States, United Nations agencies and entities, non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and other regional stakeholders, held in Bangkok, Berlin, Beirut, Dakar, Geneva, Madrid and Mexico.  The current migration crisis across the world highlighted the fundamental importance of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which defined the best measures to prevent the abuse of migrants’ rights.  Mr. Tall underlined the weak level of ratification of the Convention, reminding that it was the lowest among human rights treaties.  No major destination country had ratified it.  Even though States had legitimate interests in securing their borders and in exercising their migration policies, those interests could not replace their international obligations to guarantee the rights of all persons living in their territory, Mr. Tall emphasized and reminded that the Convention did not establish new categories of human rights.  As for the joint General Comments, Mr. Tall noted that they favoured the implementation of global migration policies based on human rights in countries of origin, transit, destination and return, as well as the improvement of the implementation of children’s rights. 

OREST NOWOSAD, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that migration had always been a defining human rights issue, which had now come to the fore.  There were more than 244 million migrants throughout the world and approximately 30 million were children.  The majority of them resided in least developed and developing countries.  Many of them were forced to move, including children, and the number of children on the move was also increasing.  At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children had been recorded in 80 countries in 2015-2016, a rise of almost 500 per cent on the 66,000 documented in 2010-2011, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.  Migration was a survival strategy to cope with extreme poverty.  Sending a child across borders to work could ensure the survival of the whole family.  Migration was not only due to economic factors; it was due to the lack of human development, gender inequalities, discrimination, abuse and neglect, conflict and violence, political instability, socio-ethnic tensions, bad governance, food insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change.  Whether the focus was on lack of opportunities, conflict or human rights violations, migration was a daily reality, and the situation of children in the context of international migration was of major concern given their greater vulnerability to human rights violations.  How many children would fall victim to heinous violations of human dignity before the world community faced those issues head on, Mr. Nowosad asked?  Migrant children were children first and foremost, and migrants, regardless of their status, were human beings with human rights.  But the world community, in particular major States of destination, had not had the political will to recognize the human rights of all migrants, and in particular child migrants.  The joint General Comments provided important guidance to all States and other stakeholders. Statements by Panellists BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, explained that the background leading up to the adoption of the joint General Comments could be found in 2005-2006, when the Committee on the Rights of the Child had already identified the importance of the issue.  The issue of children in the context of migration had been raised in almost every dialogue with States.  In their consultations, the two Committees had tried to cover as much ground as possible geographically to achieve substantial correctness and reflect different contexts globally, and to ensure the input of children.  Written submissions were absolutely important in highlighting numerous issues.  To address the discrepancy in the number of ratifications of the two Conventions, the two Committees had decided to come up with joint General Comments.  Mr. Mezmur explained that the main objective of the joint General Comments was to provide guidance on the interpretation of the two Conventions in the context of children in migration.  The joint General Comments tried to place emphasis on the nature of State party obligations, to make a distinction between good practice and implementation, to connect the dots and clarify the obligations of States, and to push the boundaries in the context of children in migration.

PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Former Vice-Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that the Joint General Comments aimed to ensure that the Conventions were live instruments and to ensure their interdependence.  In addition to the primacy of the Conventions, there was also a guiding role of the joint General Comments in protecting the rights of children in the context of migration.  There was an inter-institutional context to migration through a human rights-based approach.  Mr. Ceriani Cernadas underlined the importance of the absolute prohibition of the detention of children, of assessing the best interest of the child, of guaranteeing the social protection of and equal treatment of all migrant children, and of the inclusion of their parents in that process.  As for the impact of the joint General Comments, Mr. Ceriani Cernadas stressed the need to assess the policies currently in force.  He also highlighted the creation of tools for the prevention of the criminalization of migration.  Each of the Sustainable Development Goals undoubtedly had a human rights based approach, and particularly when it came to boys and girls.  There was a compelling need to connect different actors at the local, regional, bilateral and international levels, Mr. Ceriani Cernadas stressed.  The follow-up would be to coordinate on regional and bilateral levels with various entities working on children’s issues. 

LAURENT CHAPUIS, Regional Migration Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, noted that the two joint General Comments had come at the right moment in the debate of children in international migration.  They provided key elements for those engaging in a daily basis with Governments, civil society and other United Nations agencies to address and to respond to the needs of children in international migration.  Mr. Chapuis explained that the United Nations Children’s Fund advocated for stronger child protection systems at the country level.  The bulk of the work on child protection in international migration had focused on unaccompanied and separated children, he reminded.  Unless there was a strong child protection system and staff, key procedures around age assessment, defining durable solutions, and reviewing whether returns were in the best interest of the child, could not be done as per required standards.  Accordingly, the United Nations Children’s Fund had looked at those issues in Greece and Italy, for example.  It had also looked at the importance of data on unaccompanied migrant children and children in detention.  It was extremely difficult to mobilize political support and funding.  Migration detention was never in the interest of the child and it was necessary to develop non-custodial measures, Mr. Chapuis said.  The United Nations Children’s Fund was also concerned about the promotion of family reunification, and birth registration for migrant children.  It had worked with transit countries to promote accelerated family reunification measures and broader definition of family, to improve reception conditions and access to education, to address discrimination and xenophobia, and to denounce the criminalization of solidarity with migrants.  As for the Global Compact on Migration, Mr. Chapuis welcomed the acceptance of certain standards of child protection, but he warned that certain States were tempted to limit services for migrant children.  He said that children should not be allowed to fall through the cracks, and he underlined the issues of detention and return.

KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, stressed that the joint General Comments provided guidance on implementation standards, as well as standards for the Global Compact on Migration.  She expressed hope that they would lead to no detention for migrant children and for migrants generally, and set forth practical forward-thinking solutions.  The General Comments could guide the international community in those terms.  What was the future that the international community would like to leave to its children?  The international community should remind itself of the immense work done in the past several decades.  As for the opportunities emerging from the Global Compact on Migration and the General Comments, they provided a good example of countering the perception that rights were not practical.  The international community needed to demonstrate that rights were relevant for everyone and to bring the discourse back to what touched on people’s everyday lives, Ms. Touzenis noted.  The tension between sovereignty and the protection of rights was artificial.  The two reinforced each other. 

ANNE DUSSART, Caritas Internationalis – Belgium, said that the two joint General Comments were strong documents, but she was concerned about what States would do with them.  More than 15 years ago, a young unaccompanied minor had been placed in detention in Belgium and sent back to her country of origin.  It was good that nowadays there were guardians for unaccompanied minors, but migrant children still did not obtain relevant information about their rights.  In Belgium there was a lot of stress to place those unaccompanied minors at the centre of advocacy efforts.  The detention of migrant children in Belgium still did not fully respect children’s wellbeing and dignity.  It was necessary to discuss the best interest of the child with States, Ms. Dussart stressed.  As for the Global Compact on Migration, Caritas Internationalis tried to provide a voice to the voiceless children and to speak with people on the streets and in neighbourhoods.  Mobilization started at the local level, Ms. Dussart added.

PINAR AKSU, Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention Advocate, described her own experience of being a migrant child and asylum seeker in the United Kingdom.  Together with her family, she had been held in several detention centres, which had not been much different from prisons.  Ms. Aksu reminded that there was no limit for migration detention in the United Kingdom and that migrants were stripped of their civil rights and treated as criminals.  Alternative measures to detention allowed migrants to stay in the community and combat negative stereotypes through human contact.  People should not be detained simply for having sought refuge.  What was needed was to change policy and end child detention; to end wars that turned people into refugees; and to answer what had happened to thousands of missing migrant children in the European Union, Ms. Aksu emphasized.  Turning to the joint General Comments and the Global Compact for Migration, Ms. Aksu underlined that States should not forget history and that wars created massive movements of people fleeing to safety. Discussion

Philippines stated that the joint General Comments were very timely in light of the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration.  While the joint General Comments were good, States needed to read them and implement them.  They did not spell out any new rights, but entitlements were problematic.  There should be no distinction between irregular and regular migrants.  The Philippines regretted that some countries of destination did not register the birth of migrant children on their territory.

KHEDIDJA LADJEL, Member of the Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that in practice, some other interests had taken precedence over the best interest of the child.  Ms. Ladjel voiced concern about the implementation of the joint General Comments, reminding of the shortfalls in terms of practical actions, and noting that the international community should look at how to create more space and ensure a more significant role for the steps outlined in the joint General Comments.

Save the Children commended the two Committees for having drafted the joint General Comments, which provided a solid legal basis for the protection of migrant children.  It stressed the concept of effective control by States.  The General Comments reaffirmed the fundamental principles of non-discrimination and of treating children as children.  Their strength was in bringing various standards into a single document, which would help civil society in their advocacy.  The two joint General Comments should be operationalized with proper procedures in place.  What follow-up actions to the General Comments had been planned?  How could the participation of children be ensured in the implementation process? 

Answers by Panellists

PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Former Vice-Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that the joint General Comments were the key coordination tools to address migratory flows in a coherent way.  The question that presented itself was how to work together to implement them.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that the lack of capacity, knowledge and preparedness, as well as the populist agenda made the current migration situation a crisis.  Turning to the issue of non-discrimination, he reminded that a number of States had indicated that they wanted to be very restrictive in reading the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, said that human rights should be clearly communicated.  Marginalized groups were created due to the creation of different rights entitlements.  The current crisis was about how the world was reacting to migration.  It was necessary to attack the myths about the cost of human rights.  More legal channels would better regulate migration.  The international community should be fearful about what not respecting human rights would cost societies, rather than the other way around.  No one spoke about how much running migration detention centres cost, and about the fact that they were hotbeds for all sorts of other violations. 

LAURENT CHAPUIS, Regional Migration Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, drew attention to the implementation of the joint General Comments, noting that it was not enough to have standards defined.  It was necessary to work with front-line workers to concretely operationalize those standards, and that was best done through the sharing of best practices.  Discussion

BEN LEWIS, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, drew attention to the issue of return, and asked what guidance the joint General Comments provided on the ability of States to forcefully expel children.  How was that consistent with the best interest of the child? 

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Member of the Committee on Migrant Workers, pointed out to the frequent reference to the “practicality” of the implementation of human rights.  Could rights be depoliticized and not be made victim of political populism?

Global Detention Project welcomed the adoption of the joint General Comments, and the fact that they prohibited the detention of children, rather than merely advocating for detention as the measure of last resort.  It expressed hope that the stance of the two Committees, as expressed in the joint General Comments, would influence the ongoing negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration, whose most recent version indeed spoke of ending the practice of child detention in the context of migration.  Answers by Panellists

PINAR AKSU, Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention Advocate, said that everything was political, adding that without the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration, the joint General Comments would end up being papers on shelves.  How could law be used to push States to implement the joint General Comments?  The number of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom was not high at all.  Humanity boiled down to the political will to help.  Ms. Aksu reminded that while bombs were being dropped on people, Governments put more pressure on them, made them destitute and hopeless. 

ANNE DUSSART, Caritas Internationalis – Belgium, noted that people had to first know about migration procedures.  Professional social workers should provide migrants with correct information.  States had the responsibility to consider the situation of migrant families and not to look at their situation in black and white terms.  Having a choice of voluntary return was the basis of good migration policy.  Caritas Internationalis worked with countries of origin, namely with local civil society partners, to prepare migrants for return.  However, return was very difficult for migrant children.

KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, said that the discourse on the practicality of human rights was an excuse of those in power.  It was necessary to communicate why rights were relevant and why Conventions were relevant to those people who had never read the Conventions.  Services that people received should be linked with the discourse of rights, whereas fighting for the rights of others was also the fight for one’s own rights.  The discourse should emphasize that it was “about all of us,” rather than “us versus them.”

PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Member of the Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that global and more holistic solutions should be adopted in order to protect the rights of children in international migration.  There had been examples in which thousands of irregular migrants had been able to access their rights in a realistic, effective and reasonable way with States responding in a tailored way, combining employment and housing policies.    

LAURENT CHAPUIS, Regional Migration Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, highlighted the importance of work in countries of origin, and strengthening access to education and health to limit migration.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that the follow-up to the General Comments included keeping the Working Group on Children in the Context of Migration, which would provide intellectual rigour to the subject.  The joint General Comments would not be the final word on the issue.  Mr. Mezmur stressed the importance of individual assessment and age determination, as well as training and expertise in the age determination process.  Concluding Remarks

OREST NOWOSAD, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all the panellists, civil society representatives and State delegations for their interventions.  He reminded that the joint General Comments could feed in the Global Compact on Migration, which was an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of millions of migrant children across the world.  Migration should not be seen as a threat, Mr. Nowosad stressed, adding that migration was a daily reality and an opportunity.  Many societies had been built by migrants and on the basis of migration.  When the human rights of migrants were respected, they would be able to reach their full potential and make contributions to destination societies.

AHMADOU TALL, Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, thanked the participants in the panel discussion and he conveyed gratitude to all members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the work done on the joint General Comments.  Mr. Tall noted that they contributed to the depoliticization of human rights, and that they allowed for the use of the same language with respect to detention, for example.  Mr. Tall called on States parties to make use of the joint General Comments to roll out their policies, on civil society to do their work, and on the United Nations to properly disseminate the joint General Comments.  It was above all States that could make the difference, he concluded.

For use of the information media; not an official record

CMW18.05E

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