Declaration on access to rights, protection and reducing vulnerability of displaced people, refugees and migrants

9th September 2016

The movement of people has been a constant feature of human history. People of good will have for years welcomed the stranger and offered a place of refuge and an opportunity to integrate and contribute to the society. Love and compassion for those in need is not only a central teaching of many faiths, but a strong feature of our humanity. These principles underlie our call for a firm re-commitment to the value of humanity and overcoming the current crisis of solidarity.

Download a joint ecumenical statement by ACT Alliance, World Council of Churches, Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe and Churches Witnessing with Migrants

In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented levels of global displacement coalescing in more frequent and drastic crises, which are now commonplace.  The international community’s response is increasingly inadequate, and today represents a challenge to both the human rights of displaced people, migrants and refugees, and to international norms and standards. The handling of migration and displacement must be firmly based on international law, recognising the need to enhance rather than further undermine the access to rights and protection of affected people. We affirm the rights of all people faced with displacement, and emphasise the responsibility of governments to secure their rights, protection and dignity.

Displacement and distress migration are key factors hindering our capacity to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and their clarion call to “leave no one behind.”

The United Nations High-level Summit on addressing large movement of refugees and migrants is a welcome opportunity to learn and consolidate efforts to urgently, effectively, and sustainably address the current refugee and migration crisis at all levels. The outcomes must ensure affected people have access to rights and protection, and that their vulnerability is substantially reduced.

A. ACCESS TO RIGHTS

The human rights of refugees, migrants and displaced people are protected under a number of international human rights instruments establishing the basic standards for their treatment. These rights and the dignity of people on the move must be respected by governments and placed at the heart of all initiatives and actions to address displacement and migration. This implies an end to state practices that challenge the effective access to these rights, such as stricter border regimes, expedited and off-territory processing of asylum claims, administrative detention of refugees and migrants, and labour permit regimes favouring employers’ ability to dictate indecent work and take advantage of undocumented migrant workers. It also requires significantly strengthening existing international human rights instruments and ensuring that new governance structures on refugees and migrants currently under negotiation are firmly based on existing international human rights laws, including the proposed Global Compacts on Responsibility Sharing for Refugees and on Safe, Regular and Regular and Orderly Migration.

We call on governments to urgently set up a rights-based mechanism and resources to adequately and sustainably respond to the refugee and migrant crises.

B. PROTECTION OF PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

While human rights violations are a major cause of displacement, people who have been forced to flee face even more rights violations after leaving their countries of origin. Major challenges relate to people smuggling, entry denial into potential host countries, intolerance, xenophobia, racism and blatant discrimination. International efforts are urgently needed to protect and safeguard refugees, migrants and displaced persons from these risks. This implies ensuring access to territory and justice, increased resettlement quotas, sincere efforts to better support the developing countries hosting most of the refugees, and credible, state-led efforts to combat xenophobia and racism. It also requires legal, regular and adequate channels for people who want to migrate or rightfully acquire refugee status, and an end to the criminalisation of migrants and refugees. Furthermore, all states must share responsibility and accountability for refugees, migrants and displaced people. The current scenario in which the vast majority of refugees are hosted by developing countries is neither sustainable nor morally defensible. Developed countries must face up to their responsibilities with increased, dependable and long-term modalities for responsibility sharing on their own soil, and by deploying adequate resources to developing countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

We call on governments to reaffirm, respect, and where necessary, strengthen human rights and international humanitarian law. We also call on them to review policy, practice and laws guiding refugee responses, including for reception, border control and safe passageways.

C. REDUCING VULNERABILITY

Vulnerability to violations of human rights and deprivation of basic human needs are characteristic of forced displacement. This extends beyond the initial situations triggering forced movement, to the dangers experienced en route. Examples from the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas confirm the vulnerability of displaced people to people smugglers and traffickers, with women and children most at risk. Responses to the global migration and refugee crisis must prioritise efforts to reduce vulnerability at all stages of movement, including transit, entry into asylum countries and settlement. They must also apply the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence enshrined in international humanitarian law in situations affecting displaced people in need of humanitarian assistance. Finally, responses must address the root causes that give rise to forced movement, rather than focusing only on the symptoms.

We call on governments to address the root causes of large movements of people through sustainable and equitable development, including lasting solutions to natural disasters, conflicts and war. We also call on them to address criminal activities and bring to book all individuals, organisations and others involved in trafficking, smuggling, or otherwise violating the rights of migrants and refuges while in the move

OUR COMMITMENT: We have been working with local partners worldwide in support of refugees and migrants,  and we commit ourselves to continue the mobilisation of our constituency and resources, including faith resources, to support and accompany displaced people, and to strengthen their voices in advocating for their access to rights and to protection, and to reduce their vulnerability.

We therefore call on governments to include civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and others in all responses, noting their unique contribution particularly in humanitarian response, community mobilisation, and sharing of best practice.