How the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council addresses the issue of migration

During the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council (6-23 June 2017) the 47 member states, representing the participating countries, were working together by attending various panel discussions and debates. Seeking to promote and protect all human rights, the numerous conferences covered topics from areas concerning health, right to education, sexual orientation and gender identity, freedom of expression, racism, violence against women, global migration and many others. Within those categories the human rights of migrants was addressed.
The “Report of the Special Rapporteur of the human rights of migrants on a 2035 agenda for facilitating human mobility” represented one of the most important proposals [1] to confront migration issues over the next fifteen years.

Special Reporteur & Global Compact

The Special Rapporteur (SR) highlighted that migration is a natural part of human behaviour. However, there are “push” and “pull” factors which influence this behaviour. Therefore, taking into consideration the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon, states are encouraged to ensure that migration should represent a deliberate choice, and should never be caused by a lack of economic stability, or social, cultural, religious oppression and violence.

States are struggling to address the increasing movement of refugees and migrants which has been seen over the last few years. The closing of borders and the introduction of generally repressive policies does not end migration, it actually deteriorates the situation. It does so by creating illegal black markets in which people lose their human dignity. Ungoverned migration at all stages jeopardises human rights and puts people in danger. Unregulated procedures and practices put the most vulnerable of our society—women, children and the elderly—at particular risk. In addition, lack of oversight promotes work exploitation and inhumane “survival” conditions.

The Holy See emphasises the importance of unified cooperation at all levels, which will create “the real option for safe, regular, and orderly migration”. In order to achieve this goal, “Pope Francis encouraged the implementation of programs of international cooperation, free from partisan interests, and programs of transnational development which involve migrants as active protagonists and which are grounded in the dignity and centrality of the human person (cfr., Address of Pope Francis to the International Forum on Migration and Peace, 21 February 2017).”[2] Human dignity and respect are the basic building blocks of human rights. Those pre-conditions must be fulfilled to improve the present situation of migrants. In addition, to protect the human rights it is necessary to change the prevalent manner in which migration is presented and perceived—as a chance for development as opposed to a threat; to create labour possibilities at all skill levels; to develop refugee settlement programs and asylums; to facilitate visas and work permits; to promote cultural differentiation and to help minorities integrate in host societies; to change the language we use on a daily basis when speaking of migration; to provide access to justice and basic services. Whatever action is taken upon a migrant, the protection from discrimination and the protection of their human rights should remain a priority.

In light of the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals and the New York Declaration (NYD) for Refugees and Migrants the Special Rapporteur proposed an agenda. The agenda which “would encompass a modest but achievable number of universal goals aimed at protecting the human rights of migrants and facilitating mobility in the subsequent 15 years, with precise targets and indicators” [3]. Therefore, he proposed eight human mobility goals within the framework of the 2035 Agenda.

Human mobility goals:

Goal 1. Offer regular, safe, accessible and affordable mobility solutions to all migrants, regardless of their status or skill level
Goal 2. Protect the labour and human rights of all migrant workers, regardless of their status and circumstances
Goal 3. Ensure respect for human rights at border controls, including return, readmission and post-return monitoring, and establish accountability mechanisms
Goal 4. End the use of detention as a border management and deterrence tool against migrants
Goal 5. Provide effective access to justice for all migrants
Goal 6. Ensure easy access for all migrants to basic services, including education and health
Goal 7. Protect all migrants from all forms of discrimination and violence, including racism, xenophobia, sexual and gender-based violence and hate speech
Goal 8. Increase the collection and analysis of disaggregated data on migration and mobility

SR presents the accomplishment of the mobility agenda as a long-term strategy, which requires a detailed plan. The change should take place on the regional, national and international levels, as well across the public and private sector. In order to be successful, the political will of states represents an essential element.
Although the 2035 Agenda goes beyond the SDGs, it should not be perceived as a burden. In fact, the SDGs and the 2035 Agenda reinforce each other.
Considering the human mobility agenda, we have to remind ourselves to go out of the bubble we live in, and be aware of each unique individual human being endowed with inalienable human dignity. Everyone looks for and is entitled to a life “without discrimination, regardless of status and circumstances”.

Taking into account that the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development is a more ambitious followup of the Millennium Development Goals, it seems only natural that the SDGs should be followed by the 2035 Agenda for facilitating human mobility. Also, more agendas shall be expected in order to make a meaningful and progressive impact in the life of future generations. Let’s hope that the action taken will not come to the follow-ups, and that the resulting one from another agendas will indeed contribute to the real improvement of regular, safe, accessible and affordable migration, as well as the protection of (all) human rights.

Magdalena Ostrowska, a migrant herself, studied English Language and Literature in Poland.
Her curiosity and concerns about contemporary issues brought her to Geneva, where she has been living since 2013. As she cares deeply about human rights issues, she is grateful to VIVAT International and to Andrzej Owca for the cooperation and the opportunity to attend the 35th Session of the Council. She looks forward to deepening her knowledge in this field and hopes to be able to contribute to VIVAT International’s work in the future.


[1] Agenda item 3: “Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development”

[2]; (2017)

[3] Crepeau F., Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on a 2035 agenda for facilitating human mobility, 2017, p:4