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UN Report: Recruitment practices and the human rights of migrants

Thematic report to the UN General Assembly
14 October, 2015

The Special Rapporteur’s recent report on Recruitment practices and the human rights of migrants is now available online. The report will be presented to the UN General Assembly on October 23, 2015.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has paid particular attention to recruitment practices as one of the key areas of work for his mandate. This hugely complex and challenging issue is gaining prominence within debates relating to the human rights of migrants. The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the apparent growing prevalence of severe exploitation and abuse suffered by migrants at the hands of recruiters and subagents in countries of origin and destination.

Trends relating to recruitment practices and the human rights of migrant workers
Some 232 million international migrants are living in the world today.1 Official estimates of the number of workers among these migrants are lacking. However, there is broad consensus that it is significant. An estimated 74 per cent of migrants living abroad are of working age.1 Most migrant workers originate from developing countries, with 59 per cent settling in developed regions, where they make up about 11 per cent of the population. Currently, however, there is a rise in South-South migration, in particular in Asia, which has witnessed an increase of 41 per cent in the number of migrants living in the region.1 Asia and Europe are the two main regions hosting international migrants.

Contemporary international labour migration is driven by many factors. Globalization and neoliberal economic policies that promote deregulation of labour markets, has played a large role. Poverty, discrimination, violence, conflict, political upheaval and poor governance are also key push factors that influence migrants’ decisions to seek work abroad.

Precarious migration routes, the use of which has grown exponentially within the last few years, tend to be mixed migration channels with migrants seeking to improve their economic and social situation, choosing to take significant risks to try to improve their lives and those of their families. There is also not always a neat delineation between economic migrants and asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers also seek economic opportunities and can become vulnerable to labour market-related human rights abuses. Migrants who may not meet asylum criteria often leave their countries of origin in a position of precariousness because of extremely difficult economic and environmental factors. In that sense, both asylum seekers and such economic migrants are “survival migrants”, experiencing migration as the only way out of dire straits.

Labour migration and related recruitment practices can take many different forms, depending upon the skill level and countries of origin and destination of migrants. The focus of the present report is specifically on practices of exploitation and abuse experienced by low- to medium-wage workers migrating from the Global South. Despite recent decreases in some forms of labour migration owing to the economic downturn, the use of low- and/or medium-wage workers on precarious, short-term contracts has significantly increased. The unethical recruitment referred to throughout the report refers to recruitment practices that do not respect the human rights of migrants.

Much of this type of migration is organized by intermediaries, known as recruitment agents or agencies that in some cases are legally mandated. These intermediaries can be a legitimate form of support within the migration process but all too often they ruthlessly exploit and abuse the migrants’ precarious situation. The issue of exploitation of migrant workers by recruitment intermediaries is apparent in many regions around the world. Key sectors in which, facilitated by private recruiters, low-wage migrants’ work include: agriculture, construction, service industry, hospitality, tourism, factory work in textiles and garments, food processing and packaging, fisheries, extraction, and domestic work.

There are weaknesses in data collection systems relating to labour migration, and a tendency of unethical recruitment practices to take place in an underground, opaque and covert way. Therefore, gaining a systemic picture of migration patterns is challenging. Available data suggests that the use of and number of recruitment agencies is growing, as is the related abuse of human rights and suffering among migrants.

To read the full report, please visit the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human  Rights.

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