International Migrants Day: World Citizens Call for Cooperative Action

Rene Wadlow*



            The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day to mark the date in 1990 when the Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. (Resolution 45/58)


            For the moment, migration policy and legislation is made largely at the national level.  The European Union has tried to develop a single European immigration and refugee policy at the Tampere Summit of 1999.  Yet in practice, the EU policy has focused on the ‘security of borders ‘— a very limited vision.  No relationship exists between border security policies and the development of the countries of origin.  This fact was highlighted by the anti-Rom measures carried out in France during 2010 with a good deal of government-sponsored publicity and more quietly in other countries but with the same aims.


            These measures came in the middle of a European Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) called by European Union officials as “an unprecedented commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma” although public awareness of the Decade is probably not high.


            There are estimates that there are 10 to 12 million Rom living in the European Union with the largest concentration in Romania — some two million according to unofficial estimates.  There are also fairly large Rom groups in the former Soviet Union, in particular the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, as well as in Turkey. Originally from India, the Rom have spread through Europe probably between the ninth and fourteenth centuries.  Why they left northern India is not clear.  They seemed to have been from the start a nomadic population living from handicrafts and providing music and dance to settled populations. It is only recently that some Rom intellectuals have become interested in their Indian heritage and have been making contacts with groups which still live in India and which may have had common ancestors.


            The Rom have been known by a host of different names and only in the last few years have started using “Rom” as a common name in order to achieve some political attention to their conditions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which created a small program in 1994 uses the term “Roma and Sinti”. In former Yugoslavia, they are often called “Egyptians” due to a myth that Rom came from Egypt rather than India.


            The Rom face a wide range of often interrelated problems: citizenship, political participation, racially-motivated violence, poverty, unemployment, and an image which arouses ancestral fears of Gypsies.  Governments and Rom NGOs need to work together to provide decent living conditions based on non-discrimination and fundamental rights. There needs to be social integration through a reduction of disparities and some access to economic, political, social and cultural institutions. Social integration, however, need not mean an end to a nomadic way of life.  The right to a nomadic way of life was recognized by the European Court of Human Rights in 2004.


            A major difficulty is that the States with large concentrations of Rom such as Romania and Bulgaria have limited financial resources, and the Rom have little political influence in order to get their share.  In Western Europe, the Rom are the easily identified “tip of the iceberg” of the larger issue of migration and integration as globalization has made the barriers separating different countries ever more permeable.


            Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, the pattern of geo-strategic power has shifted in the world, and migration is an issue that is inextricably linked to these changes.  Migration is an issue that spans the globe and is symbolic of the new patterns of power and the post-Cold War conflicts.


            The relevant political scale for dealing with and regulating migratory patterns has moved to the world level while implementation remains largely at the national level. Migratory flows have become more diverse, creating more complex and varied routes. Trafficking in persons has become a world-wide business which often entails serious violations of human rights and undermines the dignity of the person. Trafficking flourishes amidst the hardship of the least protected and vulnerable women, men and children.  Human poverty, not only lack of income but also health care, scarcity of food, obstacles to education, inequality of opportunities, including gender discrimination, affect migratory flows.


            Trafficking is done in total disregard for the dignity of the person and of his welfare.  The recent increase in the scope, intensity and sophistication of crime around the world threatens the safety of citizens everywhere and hinders countries in their social, economic, and cultural development.  The dark side of globalization allows multinational criminal syndicates to broaden their range of operations from drug and arms sales to trafficking in human beings.


            The smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of human beings for prostitution and slave labour have become two of the fastest growing worldwide problems of recent years.  From Himalayan villages to Eastern European cities — especially women and girls — are attracted by the prospect of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress of factory worker.  Traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues, casual acquaintances, and even family.


            The lack of economic, political and social structures providing women with equal job opportunities has also contributed to the feminization of poverty, which in turn has given rise to the feminization of migration, as women leave their homes to look for viable economic solutions.  In addition, political instability, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflict and natural catastrophes increase women’s vulnerability and can contribute to the rise of trafficking.


            However, trafficking in human beings is not confined to the “sex industry”.  Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops, and men to work in the “three D jobs” — dirty, difficult and dangerous.


            We must not underestimate the difficulties and dangers which exist in the struggle against trafficking. It is a task which requires participatory action to change attitudes, to overcome apathy and to root out deep-set corruption.


            An important challenge is the promotion of the human rights of migrants in the countries of origin, transit and destination.  When the human rights of migrants are ignored or curtailed, their capacity to contribute to the development of their own country and of host societies is undermined.  Thus, as citizens of the world, we call for cooperative action and a true world policy on migrations in which migrants themselves have a say. Migration has become a defining feature of the contemporary world and planning by both governments and civil society is needed at the world level.


*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens






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