18 January 2018

Ethiopia: Human Rights in the Murky Grounds of Irregular Migration


Human rights constitute one of the most contentious issues in the administration of states and international relations in general. No state can claim to have a perfect human rights record. Human rights problems are one of those things that are impossible to completely eradicate. However, a consideration of the fact that these rights are the most basic of rights entitled to a human being just for the mere reason of belonging to that group leaves one to wonder if it is indeed unattainable. Another worrying derivation is: "if the most basic rights cannot be ensured for everyone, how can the more complicated rights of economic, political and social rights fair in terms of attainability?

Even in the welfare states where economic riches are translated into better livelihood for citizens, human rights are still a long way from being completely attained. This deficit in realizing human rights in states is currently being manipulated to advance the interests of the superpower and its satellite states.

Even under stable and prosperous states, human rights are a challenging issue to realize. The rule of law creates a favorable condition for states to cater to the social security, health, education, equality, security of person, freedom of thought, etc demands of citizens. The above stated rights make up part of the thirty articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Conditions of political, economic and social stability and development help foster suitable conditions for the advancement of the values incorporated in the UDHR. On the contrary, the opposite scenario makes it harder for human rights to be upheld. One of such conditions that work against the protection of human rights is migration.

Elevating itself as one of the hot topics in the world, migration has become a worldwide issue confronting both rich and poor states. In previous centuries, it was the people of Europe who mainly migrated south to plunder the riches of the rest of the world, colonize other states and conquer new lands by killing their local residents in their millions. Nowadays, people of the poor world migrate up North while citizens of rich countries migrate anywhere they deem good enough to get them employed.

Although some of the international migrants end up realizing the better life they hoped for, the fate of the majority is by no means comfortable. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states that 214 million people (3% of the world population) currently live outside their country of origin. An OHCHR document states that the lack of human rights-based systems of migration governance at the global, regional and national level is creating a human rights crisis for migrants at borders and in the territory of countries of transit and destination.

The International Council On Human Rights Policy stated in a booklet entitled "Irregular Migration, Migrant Smuggling and Human Rights: Towards Coherence" that migrants have numerous reasons to move - and many fall in and out of irregular status during their journeys or after they settle abroad. It divides the whole migratory journey into the following major groups: before departure, during transit, at the border, within the country of destination and on return to the country of origin.

Let's see the state of human rights for irregular migrants at every phase of the migratory journey. The consideration only applies to irregular migrants that are people who lack legal status in a transit or host country; those who entered a state without authorization, or entered a country legally but then lost permission to remain.

Before Departure: it is usually the poor who resort to become irregular migrants as they see no hope in their homeland. In this phase they weigh their chances of leading a better life and conclude that there are no possible scenarios that would lead to it. Such people usually have difficulty accessing basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. Their level of education is usually low and their access to health facilities is limited. In other situations, this group of people could be fleeing from armed conflict in their homeland. In these extreme cases, the right to life itself falls under question. In general, the poor state of livelihood and the violation of human rights they entail are at the core of the problems of irregular migrants that prompt their actions to enter other states unlawfully.

During Transit: once irregular migrants embark on their journeys, they transit in different places before they get to their destination. The fact that they have to stay under radar in their dealings means that they are left at the mercy of people who have the upper hand in the situation. This phase is filled with manipulation for irregular migrants. In this phase irregular migrants are stranded in a country they don't know for a certain period of time. For instance, African migrants to Italy use Libya as a transit. During their stay there, they face numerous hardships. The Ethiopian migrants who were beheaded by IS a few years ago come to mind. Others face labor and sexual exploitation along with many other forms of abuse. Therefore, the state of human rights in this phase is normally worse than it was before departure.

At the Border: the final push from the transit to the border of the destination is usually the toughest and deadliest episode. Somali human smugglers throw people off small crammed boats into the red sea whenever they feel like the boat can't resist the tide or whenever they feel like it. At the border usually exist organized navy and army that patrol the border. Crossing into the border leaves irregular migrants in confrontation with these organized military sections of the state. Irregular migrants bear various forms of abuse and manipulation to cross borders. Therefore, the state of human rights is once again threatened at the border.

Within the Country of Destination: undocumented migrants are under constant fear of law enforcement. The booklet stated above states that Migrants, notably those in an irregular situation, tend to live and work in the shadows, afraid to complain, denied rights and freedoms, and disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and marginalization. It goes on to say that human rights violations against migrants, including denial of access to fundamental rights such as the right to education or the right to health, are often closely linked to discriminatory laws and practice, and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia against migrants. Once again, the state of human rights for irregular migrants is pitiful in this phase.

On return to the country of origin: even though most of the human rights violations irregular migrants experience seems to fall sharply upon their return to their country of origin, the state of poverty worsens making the human rights deficit larger. Therefore, there need to be rehabilitation programs in place to make sure that irregular migrants do not embark on such a journey again and build their hopes in their homeland.

Irregular migration also makes it hard for governments to follow up and monitor the state of human rights of their citizens as they usually operate in shadows. Therefore, the chance of human rights violations against irregular migrants is very high.

Editor's Note: The views entertained here does not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald


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