Addressing vulnerabilities associated with migration

Although migration can be a positive experience for many people, it also involves risks and tradeoffs for those who move and those who stay behind. The outcomes of migration largely depend on who moves, under which conditions, and how they fare at destination. Some groups tend to be more vulnerable than others, such as women, children, ethnic minorities, and people who lack resources (money, skills, information, networks, etc.), largely because existing migration opportunities do not allow for their movement through regular channels; require high upfront investments; confine them to unregulated segments of the labour market at destination; and do not allow for family reunification.  

At present, the rights of many migrants remain precarious. Those with irregular status are often denied basic entitlements and services. The exploitation and abuses of migrant workers—in particular of those in un- or under-regulated sectors such as domestic work—are well evidenced. Many others accept limitations on their rights in order to access permission to work and higher earnings. Family members who are left behind can be exposed to additional vulnerabilities.

The nine core international human rights instruments all generally and specifically apply to migrants, whether their status is regular or irregular. Of particular relevance are the rights to equality under the law and to be free from discrimination on grounds of race, national origin or other status. Yet it is also clear that the main challenge is not the lack of a legal framework for the protection of rights, but rather their enforcement. Major problems can arise in countries where governance, rule of law, and service provision are weak. The section on human rights of migrants is intended to provide both legal and practical guidance and examples as to how governments can ensure basic rights for migrants.

People who have been smuggled and victims of trafficking constitute other vulnerable groups of migrants. Victims of trafficking experience severe restrictions on human freedom and violations of basic human rights. Recently, protocols against the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons have garnered broad support. These protocols seek to criminalize smugglers and traffickers, not migrants themselves. The section on migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons provides rich resources ranging from legal guidelines to practical tools, training materials, and program experiences that may help address the complex challenges raised by these phenomena.