Press Releases

SG/SM/8563
OBV/320
17 December 2002

IMMIGRANTS, REFUGEES MUST NOT BE SEEN AS A BURDEN, SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS IN MESSAGE TO MARK INTERNATIONAL MIGRANTS DAY

NEW YORK, 16 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on the occasion of International Migrants Day, 18 December 2002:

Today marks the third International Migrants Day. It is an opportunity for all of us to pay tribute to the millions of migrants who leave their native countries in pursuit of improved standards of living for themselves and their families.

Today, there are more people living outside their countries of birth than ever before. In 2000, an estimated 175 million lived outside their country of birth. Of these, about 159 million were deemed international migrants; approximately 16 million were recognized refugees fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution; and 900,000 asylum seekers.

Behind these numbers are human stories: the skilled Nigerian computer engineer working in Sweden; the agricultural worker from Guatemala working illegally in the United States; the woman trafficked from Ukraine to Bosnia; the refugee from Afghanistan now in Pakistan and about to return home; and many, many more.

Immigrants and refugees should not –- and must not -– be seen as a burden. Those who risk their lives and those of their families are often those with the greatest ambition to make a better life for themselves, and they are willing to work for it. They do not leave their familiar surroundings, their culture or their families for a life of dependence, crime or discrimination thousands of kilometres away. They merely want a safer, more prosperous future for their children. If they are given a chance to make the most of their abilities, on an equal basis, the vast majority of them will be assets to society.

There is abundant evidence that migrants, and in particular migrant women and unaccompanied children, are often denied access to health and education; subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; prevented from reuniting with their families, and detained and deported in conditions that violate international human rights standards and make them vulnerable to networks of smuggling and trafficking in persons. Moreover, the abuses confronted by migrants at all phases of the migratory process are often exacerbated by discrimination. This discrimination may be both implicit, in the lack of mechanisms of protection for migrants, and explicit, in the form of discriminatory national legislations and outright acts of racism or xenophobia.

We must all work together to ensure that migrants are empowered to make informed decisions concerning their future, and that they have access to recourse for abuses against them. Most importantly, migrants must be recognized for their valuable economic, cultural and social contributions in both countries of origin and destination.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families needs 20 ratifications to enter into force. To date, 19 instruments of ratification or accession have been deposited. I call upon Member States who have not yet ratified or acceded to the Convention to do so as soon as possible as a way to ensure the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants.

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