Freedom of association for migrants --- joint statement at Human Rights Council

Joint tatement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants


Madame President; Special Rapporteur,

This is a statement on behalf of CIVICUS, Solidarity Center, and the International Service for Human Rights.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report. For the marginalised in society, including migrant workers, the freedom to act collectively offers protection against discrimination, exploitation and poverty. When the right to association is open to migrant workers and refugees, they can organize to uphold their interests in their workplaces and communities, influence public opinion and hold public officials accountable.

We share your concern that hostility towards migrants and those who defend their rights has given rise to restrictive laws and practices that undermine the human rights, safety and dignity of migrants.

A report released by CIVICUS and Solidarity Centre last October revealed serious challenges for migrant workers in exercising their freedom of association, including the threat of deportation for speaking out.

Migrant workers in Malaysia reported that intimidation and pressure from their employers often prevents them from organizing, and that they can be coerced by agents or their employers not to join unions. In some cases, their working contracts deny their participation. Two-thirds of migrant workers surveyed in Kenya say harassment or pressure from employers is a major barrier to exercising freedom of association.

COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the importance of freedom of association rights for migrant workers and refugees. They must have the right to speak out and organize collectively to ensure health and safety at work, especially as they are disproportionately represented in “essential sectors” such food processing, agriculture and health services in many countries.

Defenders of migrants’ and refugee rights play a crucial role in supporting migrants, elevating their voices and providing humanitarian assistance. We are seriously alarmed at the harassment of individuals and civil society organizations supporting migrants, including migrant workers, in the EU and the US; including criminalization of their activities; and barriers to registration and funding. Such attacks can be a matter of life or death for those whose rights and freedoms they defend. 

We call on all States to heed the recommendations of the report to recognize and protect migrants’ right to freedom of association, to stop the misuse of smuggling and trafficking laws to target migrant rights defenders and to create an enabling environment for civil society organizations, including those working on migration and migrants’ rights issues.