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Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N 90,  December 2002, p. 235-236.

Intervention by H.E. Msgr. Diarmuid MARTIN

Permanent Observer of the Holy See
to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights*

Mr Chairman,

My Delegation wishes to make some short comments on how a human rights perspective can enhance the dignity and improve the opportunity of two specific groups of persons: migrant workers and persons with disability.

1. Migration will inevitably become one of the characteristics of a globalised economy. There is therefore an urgent need to intensify and better coordinate reflection on the theme of migration on an international level. Many governments, faced with changing migration challenges, are drawing up new legislative measures. We need a forward-looking human rights framework on migration, which can be used to inspire and to evaluate these national legislations.

A first precondition for a forward-looking human rights framework is that it be set within a positive image of migration. Legislations that are based primarily on control and repression of abuses - dimensions that, without doubt, are necessary - will never capture the concept of migration as opportunity. Migration is opportunity today, just as it was for some so many individuals and families throughout the past. Migration can bring new opportunity for the individuals who move to a new country, whether for a shorter or a longer period of time. If managed effectively, migration brings new opportunity for the economy of the receiving country, as well as an enrichment of its society.

Policies that unscrupulously exploit fear of migrants are not worthy of enlightened societies. "From bitter experience", Pope John Paul II has noted, "we know that the fear of difference, especially when it expresses itself in a narrow and exclusive nationalism which denies any rights to "the other', can lead to a true nightmare of violence and terror" (Pope John Paul II: Address to the 50 General Assembly of the United Nations, 9). Such unscrupulous polices are also increasingly counterproductive. Today's globalized economy needs, rather, creative legal frameworks and interstate cooperation, which protect the dignity of migrant workers, and facilitate their free choice to remain or to return to their country of origin. Policies concerning family reunification are important here, as well as effective bilateral or multilateral agreements concerning health care, pensions and social insurance.

Migrants, on the other hand, who lack legal protection - whether due to inadequacies in the legal framework or to the fact that they are undocumented - are among the most vulnerable categories of people in today's world, The Durban Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance drew special attention to the fact that migrants were very often particularly vulnerable to racism, racist intolerance and violence.

Within the broad constellaiton of migration, the phenomenon of trafficking of human beings constitutes a sad and serious mark on our contemporary society, taking on the connotations of modern-day slavery. Unscrupulous criminal bands trade and sell human beings along complex modern-day slave routes, at times in unimaginable conditions. On arrival at their final destination other criminal networks that control their employment opportunities often further enslave them.

Because of their illegal condition they may have no effective means of redress. A positive image of migration requires a much more coherent international attack on such criminal organizations.

* Geneva, 24 April 2002
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