Migration rights groups call on countries to demilitarise their borders

A rally in New York calls for the US President Joe Biden's administration to shut down immigration detention centres and to end deportations, on 3 March 2022. (Credit: Keystone/EPA/Justin Lane)

Governments should demilitarise their migration policies and recognise migrants as rights holders, the Global Coalition on Migration said on Thursday.

Conflict, climate change and economic instability worsened by the pandemic have forced millions of people to flee their homes in search of safety. Countries have responded by tightening and externalising border controls, exposing migrants, already in precarious situations, to harassment, detention and ill-treatment, according to the report released on Thursday.

The publication comes a few weeks ahead of the first review on the Global Compact on Migration due to take place in UN headquarters in New York between 17 and 20 May, where countries will measure progress made on implementing the agreement towards “safe, orderly and regular migration”.

A compilation of articles by migration experts around the world, report calls on UN members to promote equality for migrants and protect their human rights regardless of their migratory status.

The report warns about a growing trend of countries signing bilateral agreements with other countries to prevent irregular migrants and asylum-seekers from entering their territories.

For example, several of the agreements between the United States and Central American countries have led to the deployment of military and police forces to patrol the borders and crack down on irregular migration, according to the report.

The authors also point out that countries have been increasingly resorting to detention and surveillance as a way to dissuade people from coming over. Aside from being deprived of their freedom, detained migrants, especially women, girls and LGBTQ, are at risk of psychological abuse and sexual violence.

Border closures have also forced migrants to seek dangerous routes. Between 2018 and 2020, 21,200 people died while trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

The report calls for safe, regular pathways to be put in place and end criminalisation of migrants. The report further recommends shifting resources from border policing and to sustainable development and good labour practices that will better support those in need.

The Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted the plight of migrants, as millions lost their jobs and were stranded without access to adequate health care due to lack of documents. The authors urge governments to prioritise migrant rights and fair labour practices instead of treating them as criminals.

A new social contract is required after the global pandemic, they suggested, rather than “building back better” a broken and flawed circular migration edifice.

Additionally, the coalition asked countries to recognise climate displacement as a valid cause for immigration.

“Binaries such as voluntary/involuntary, regular/irregular, migrants/refugees, or trafficked/smuggled have harmful consequences when one type of border crossing is legitimised at the expense of another,” the report further pointed out.