Minute on the Rights of Migrants and Migrant Workers
22 February 2011
Approved by the WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 16-22 February 2011
1. In light of the consistent biblical invitation to create communities of hospitality and care for the sojourners and the strangers who reside in our lands; and in remembrance of Christ’s story that the righteous would care for strangers with the same respect that they would extend to Christ himself (cf. Matthew 25), the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) offers the following reflections on the need for churches to care for the plight of migrants and migrant workers in our world.
2. Migration continues to be one of the most pressing challenges of the contemporary world. According to the International Organization for Migration's World Migration Report 2010, it is estimated that 214 million people live and work in a country other than that of their birth or citizenship. At least half of the migrants are in the category of migrant workers and around 15% of them are believed to be in irregular status. The growing pace of economic globalization as well as the current economic crisis has created more migrant workers than ever before.
3. Unemployment and increasing poverty have prompted many workers in developing countries to seek work abroad, while developed countries have increased their demand for labour and the requirements for immigration, especially skilled labour. Although migrants contribute to economic growth of host countries as well as home countries, their fundamental rights have been violated, especially in the contexts of the current economic crisis. The fact remains that in many situations, migrants and migrant workers lack adequate social protection, and their educational qualifications – many of which have enhanced their applications for citizenship – are not fairly recognized by the receiving country. Their contributions to enrich the countries and situations in various ways – human development, cultural diversity, knowledge and technological skills, contribution to demographic balance in countries where ageing populations are increasing – have been totally ignored.
4. Several newly industrialised economic countries allow migrant workers with irregular status to stay and work; these migrants continue to live in most vulnerable situations. Migrants in an irregular situation are often denied even the most basic labour protections, due process guarantees, personal security, and healthcare. Rendered vulnerable by their irregular status, they are often afraid or unable to seek protection and relief from the authorities in receiving or sending countries.
5. In many contexts, human rights violations of migrant workers are closely linked to discriminatory laws and practices, and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia, all of which contribute to the increased vulnerability of these individuals and groups. Political and legal debates on international migration are generally focused on issues such as border control, terrorism, transnational crimes and irregular migration. In such discussions, the human rights of migrants remain subordinate, if not marginal, to the concerns of the states.
6. In many host countries, a large number of migrants and migrant workers are unjustly detained without effective access to the necessary processes for the protection of their legal and human rights.
7. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) was adopted in 1990 and entered into force in 2003. The main objective of the Convention is to promote respect for migrants’ human rights. In so doing, the Convention does not create new rights for migrants, but aims at guaranteeing equal treatment and the same working conditions for nationals and migrants, whether documented or in irregular status. In other words, although legal migrants are entitled to claim more rights than undocumented migrants, the fundamental human rights of all need to be respected. It should be noted, in passing, that even though many countries have ratified this agreement, the EU members, the United States, Canada and Australia have, as yet, failed to do so.
8. While the issue of rights for migrant workers is different from issues related to human trafficking, we note that the vulnerability of migrant workers sometimes creates contexts in which migrant workers and their families are exposed to greater risks of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and multiple discriminations and specific challenges in access to employment and health services.
9. The World Council of Churches (WCC), through the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), has been actively involved in advocacy related to migration and the rights of migrant workers. Several member churches of the WCC have been actively involved in addressing the concerns of the migrants and migrant workers in their local contexts. However, a more coordinated and systematic approach to address the concerns of the migrants, migrant workers and their families needs to be undertaken within the ecumenical family in order to address this issue in a global ecumenical advocacy agenda.
Recalling the recommendations laid out in the Memorandum and Recommendations on Practising Hospitality in an Era of New Forms of Migration (2005 Central Committee), the
Central Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva from 16 to 22 February 2011, therefore:
1. Encourages the WCC to initiate more coordinated advocacy initiatives within the framework of the recently constituted CCIA Working Group on Migrants, Migrant Workers and Stateless People.
2. Reaffirms the importance of fostering a culture of prayer, worship, encounter and hospitality that will deepen and enrich the inclusive call to Christian community.
3. Stresses the need for WCC member churches to call on States and closely work with civil society to combat the human trafficking and exploitation, especially of women and children for sexual exploitation.
4. Urges churches to develop an advocacy strategy in their respective countries to encourage their governments to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
5. Condemns the unjust detention of migrants.
6. Commends the commitment of churches and Christians who are engaged in protecting and safeguarding the rights of migrants and migrant workers.