Statement | International Migrants Day: realising the rights of migrants

published 18 December 2020 updated 18 December 2020

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families and near the end of an exceptional year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, Education International calls on governments to protect and respect the human rights of all migrants, including children, young people, teachers, and education support personnel.

Today, an estimated 272 million people are international migrants, two thirds of whom are labour migrants1 who left their homelands in search of dignity, opportunity, and safety. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened respect for rights and conditions in a world already marked by acute inequalities. Marginalised groups have been hard hit by this multidimensional crisis, including migrant workers, their families, and communities.

In a Joint Guidance Note published in May, the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants observed that “in some countries, [migrants] show[ed] the highest levels of contagions and deaths from COVID-19”. Due to difficult, often crowded living conditions (both as they move from one country to another and in host countries) and obstacles to accessing healthcare, migrants have been particularly vulnerable to the spread of the disease. Migrants have also been exposed as they made up a significant proportion of workers in essential sectors (health and care, agri-food industry, transport, cleaning, etc.). In these extremely difficult health circumstances, Education International calls upon governments to protect and ensure migrants’ right to health, facilitating access to health services regardless of migration status, and ensure that they are included in vaccination strategies, especially when they work in essential services and industries.

Across the globe, nearly 1.6 billion children and youth suffered from the greatest disruption of education in history. Evidence is emerging that the closure of education institutions may have further widened the achievement gap between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, including migrant children and youth. Such inequities have hampered migrant students’ ability to benefit from distance education due to connectivity problems, the interruption of school-based services (including language support), poor housing conditions and lack of physical space to study, lack of parental support, etc. Education International urges governments to carry out equity audits within the education sector to systematically assess the impact of the school and education institution full/partial closures on the most vulnerable students, teachers, and education support personnel, including those with a migrant background/status, and urgently address the key equity issues that have been aggravated by the pandemic.

In addition to vulnerabilities already faced pre-pandemic, migrant families and communities are also more likely to be affected by the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis as migrant workers are over-represented in the hardest hit employment sectors (for example, domestic work, hospitality, cleaning, and care sectors) and more likely to work on precarious and temporary contracts. They are often unable to organise and bargain, and lack social protection and income security. Thirty years after its adoption by the UN General Assembly, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families (C143) remains one of the least ratified human rights treaties. With the beginning of the formal review of the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2018, Education International urges governments to safeguard the dignity and rights of migrant workers by ratifying and applying ILO Convention 143 and other relevant international labour standards, as well as including migrant workers and their families, regardless of their migration status, in COVID-19 economic recovery policies and plans.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed in a joint statement in March: “Our response to this epidemic must encompass — and in fact, focus on — those whom society often neglects or relegates to a lesser status. Otherwise, it will fail”. On International Migrants Day, Education International recognises the vital contribution that migrant workers, teachers, and education support personnel have made throughout this crisis, stands in solidarity with all migrants, and reaffirms its commitment to defend and promote their rights.

1. World Migration Report 2020. International Organization for Migration, 2019.