Protecting migrant rights: a policy comparison
A policy comparison between the EU common immigration policy for Europe; the UNHCR 10 point plan; the AU Migration Policy Framework and the IOM Irregular migration and mixed flows policy paper.
Irregular migration has reached unprecedented levels across the globe. The pull and push factors driving the movement vary according to region and country but underscoring this emerging migration dynamic has been the development of various policy approaches by humanitarian agencies and regional bodies. The Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) has chosen four policies to compare for this briefing. The common denominator in the four major policy documents is that they all emphasize on the protection of migrants and respect for human dignity. The documents reviewed here are the following:
1. The European Union Common Immigration Policy (2008) lays out ten common principles which are based on Europe’s commitment to uphold universal values such as protection of refugees, respect for human dignity and tolerance.
2. The UNHCR Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration a 10 point plan (2007) is a guide on how humanitarian agencies and States could take protection responsibilities concerning irregular movements of refugees.
3. The IOM Irregular Migration and Mixed Flows policy paper (2008) emphasizes a comprehensive approach to migration management that takes into account the legitimate sovereign authority of States as well as the fundamental human rights of migrants.
4. The African Union Migration Policy Framework (2006) identifies nine key thematic migration issues with sub-themes, provides a comprehensive and integrated policy guideline and makes policy recommendations for consideration by AU Member States and Regional Economic Communities.
Based on five themes, what follows is an assessment of the similarities and differences between the four policy documents from a comparative perspective.
Similarities and Differences
1. Labour Migration
The EU immigration policy aims at recognizing and enhancing the contribution of legal immigration to the socio-economic development of the European Union. The policy foresees a future scenario where the working age population in Europe will be in a continuous fall and thus migration will become a major determinant of the long term demographic evolution. However, the policy lays emphasis on highly skilled migrants and further calls for a framework that matches skills with the needs.
The African Union Migration Policy framework views labour migration as satisfying important labor market needs especially in Europe. It also notes the important contribution that remittances have on the African economies through investments. Labour migration to Europe has also been linked with skills and technology transfer, which has had a positive impact on overall development objectives. The policy emphasizes legislations that incorporate appropriate labour standards for migrants and members of their families that can have a positive impact on society generally.
The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) policies provide impartial advice and information to prospective migrants about regular migration opportunities, the labour market and living conditions in destination countries and alerting them to the risks of irregular migration. The IOM policy addresses the demand side of migration by designing labour migration policies that facilitates safe and regular migration in all skills categories.
2. Promotion of Legal Migration Channels
The EU immigration policy advocates for a visa directive that serves the interests of Europe by facilitating the entry of bona fide visitors while at the same time enhancing security through an integrated border management to preserve the integrity of the Schengen area.
The AU migration policy framework underscores the importance of international standard travel documents (passports, visas, emergency passports, laissez-passers and in some cases identification cards), issued through a well-structured registration and issuance systems. The documents are necessary in order to eliminate illegal border crossings, human trafficking and smuggling.
The IOM and UNHCR policies while supportive of EU policy measures to enhance border controls advocates for the upholding of human rights standards while handling migrants, including promoting the right to seek asylum. The UNHCR 10 point plan also mentions the important feature of maritime security. The policy calls for safeguarding lives at sea, respecting the obligations of maritime law, maintaining the integrity of the search and rescue regime and ensuring the smooth flow of maritime traffic.
3. Illegal Migration and Human Trafficking
The EU immigration policy is wary of illegal migration which may be linked with terrorism, trafficking in human beings, smuggling of drugs and weapons, exploitation, slavery-like working conditions and other serious crimes. The policy calls for a common European asylum system that incorporates, “integrated border management to preserve the integrity of the Schengen area without internal border controls; stepping up the fight against illegal immigration and zero tolerance for trafficking in human beings; and sustainable and effective return policies.”
The African Union Migration Policy Framework closely ties migrant smuggling and human trafficking by emphasizing that migrants who resort to smugglers often find themselves in positions of extreme vulnerability, paying large sums of money to undertake perilous voyages in order to seek out employment. Consequently, government responses and policies to smuggling should at all stages take account of migrants’ human rights, and to the extent possible, seek to respond to the motivations behind this form of irregular migration. Thus, the document encourages a regional consultative processes and dialogue on irregular migration to promote greater policy coherence at the national, sub-regional and regional levels.
The UNHCR and IOM policies while aware of the problem of illegal migration and human trafficking, urges States to ensure measures are not applied in an indiscriminate or disproportionate manner and that they do not lead to refoulement. Both agencies provide direct assistance to trafficked men, women and children and are strongly against the detention of asylum seekers.
4. Migration and Development
The EU common immigration policy contains principles aimed at enhancing the contribution of legal immigration to the socio-economic development of the EU. Additionally, the policy takes note of the important element of the root causes of migration and suggests partnership with third countries through development assistance more importantly to mitigate the cases of illegal migration.
The AU migration policy framework views migration as contributing to the development of State economies. Migrants often maintain a web of connections with their home States creating beneficial feedback effects such as the transfer of remittances, knowledge, skills and technology, as well as short and long-term return migration.
The strengthening of these feedback effects by enhancing collaboration with the African diaspora is a key aspect in fostering the migration-development nexus as has been rightfully identified within the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as a sector priority within its Human Resource Development Initiative. The NEPAD framework also recognizes the reversal of “brain drain” as a sector priority.
The UNHCR and IOM policy documents are silent on the link between migration and development. The policies however provide information on the risks and opportunities of migrants’ chosen destinations.
5. Readmission, Return and Reintegration
The African Union Migration Policy creates standards and procedures, based on law and policy, for the return, re-admission and re-integration of excludable migrants in line with relevant international legal instruments. The policy states:
- “(i) each Member State of the European Union shall accept the return of and re-admission of any of its nationals who are illegally present on the territory of an African State, at that State’s request and without further formalities;”
- “(ii) each of the African States shall accept the return of and readmission of any of its nationals who are illegally present on the territory of a Member State of the European Union, at that Member State’s request and without further formalities.”
Similarly, a key pillar of the EU immigration policy is the development of a common European asylum system, in full respect of the terms of the Geneva Convention and Member States’ obligations under international treaties.
Both the UNHCR and IOM policies support processes geared towards the return, readmission and reintegration of migrants.
To what extent the aspirations, concerns and advice of these various policies are translated into actual activities and to what extent they are applied in the Horn of Africa region needs to be the subject of future analysis. In the Horn and Yemen, the expression and implementation of laws and policies is often contradictory (between different government departments and different governments), chaotic, arbitrarily applied or absent. In 2012, there is evidence of a more stringent intolerance of irregular migration in the region.
Links to the Policy Documents