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Migrant and refugee rights

No matter where we are born, or what papers we hold, fundamental human rights don’t disappear at the border.

Throughout the world and across history, people who are migrants or refugees have strengthened communities by bringing new ideas, adding diversity, enriching culture, and contributing to society as they strive to build a better life.

People move to other countries for a variety of reasons. Some for work reasons or to be with family or just for the chance of a fresh start or a better life. 

Others have been forced by conflict or political persecution to seek safety in another country. Migrants and refugees are often vulnerable to violations and abuses of their rights and dignity. But when they come together to call for their human rights to be protected, or when others do so in solidarity, governments around the world often put up roadblocks, restricting rights and freedoms instead of respecting them. Those defending migrant rights and refugee rights, and showing how migration and human rights are interconnected, represent humanity at its best – inclusive, diverse and often, life-saving. 

Faced with mounting challenges around the globe, many governments invest heavily in development and peace and security programmes to address the root causes of conflicts, crisis and climate change. But impunity, corruption and instability persist – and sometimes, are exacerbated by those same governments’ actions in other spheres, like politics or economics and trade. It’s not hard to understand why many people make the hard decision to leave their homes and families in search of better, safer lives for themselves and their families. Wouldn’t you?

Instead of finding relief or security or opportunity, however, many migrants and refugees are exploited, victimised, threatened and even killed. Those who can find safe harbour may try to come together to advocate for their communities, only to find that their struggle for rights can actually lead to more problems, not less. Those who are stranded, at risk, lost or injured need life-saving assistance; but when ordinary citizens are moved to help by providing water or shelter, or legal support, or simply the loan of a mobile phone, they can face trial for ‘crimes of solidarity’ – acts which should actually be considered as a tribute to humanity.

Despite this difficult environment, and sometimes at great risk, defenders of migrant and refugee rights continue their work. They hold governments accountable to their word when it comes to rights protections – using the law, peaceful assembly, and innovative campaigns to do so. They provide shelter to those crossing mountains in the winter and deserts in summer. They bring refugees and migrants into their homes and communities to build trust, cohesion and sustainable communities. They remember and memorialise those missing, presumed dead and keep on fighting for the living. 

ISHR supports migrants human rights defenders 

Throughout this all, ISHR stands ready to ensure this fight is visible, and that no government can justify treating a person with less dignity simply because they may be undocumented. We are present, working with civil society and migrant organisations to recognise their work as rights defence, to legitimise their concerns, to strategise about how to use international advocacy – along with a range of other tools – to change the policies and practices that shape ‘migration management’ for the better. 

Because we agree with them: no matter where one is born, or what papers they may hold, their fundamental human rights don’t disappear at the border.

Latest updates

Check out all the latest updates to this topic

ACHPR 73: Mauritania should take legislative measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.

In compliance with Article 62 of the African Charter, States have the obligation to report every two years on the legislative, administrative and political measures taken with a view to give effect to human rights guaranteed by the Charter. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which ratified the Charter in 1986, submitted its 15th-16th and 17th Periodic Reports for its review.

ACHPR73: Côte d'Ivoire should strengthen the mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Commission’) examined the periodic report of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire covering the period 2016-2019, during its public session held from 20 to 30 October 2022 in Banjul, The Gambia. The report presents the progress made by Côte d'Ivoire regarding the state of human rights since its last review by the Commission.

HRC51: Impunity for grave violations against Africans in Ceuta and Melilla is a clear manifestation of structural and institutional racism

During HRC51 General Debate Item 4, ISHR, the Implementation Team in Spain for the Decade on People of African descent and the Elin Association, delivered a joint statement supported by 108 organisations in Europe, the Americas and Africa, denouncing the grave human rights violations against African persons at the southern borders of Spain and in particular in Ceuta and Melilla.

Kenya should strengthen its legal framework protecting defenders

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) examined the combined report of the 12th and 13th periodic reports of the Republic of Kenya during the virtual session held from 21 April to 13 May 2022. The report presents the progress made by the country regarding the state of human rights in Kenya.

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