Let’s make the UN Declaration of Human Rights a reality


More than 300 migrants from Ghana, Somalia, and Eritrea were killed as their flimsy boat caught fire and capsized near the shores of Italy.

Recently, 44 Nepalese migrant construction workers died in Qatar, a country which is hosting the World Cup in 2022.

And in January, 13 migrant workers were killed in Bahrain in a tragic fire due to poor housing and unsafe conditions.

These are only a snippet of the deaths suffered by migrant workers throughout the world as they leave their homes and families to look for decent work, dignity, free from exploitation, and a better future.

And these are the rights they deserve.

In the debate of global governance on migration, a rights-based approach to existing international normative framework governing migration must be the core of the outcome of this high-level dialogue.

We call on the governments to ratify the UN and ILO conventions on migration. We also call on the European Union to comply with the fundamental rights of migrants in accordance to the UN and ILO conventions.

This approach compels all of us to recognise that migrant workers have rights that must be protected and promoted in all situations – rights that should not be denied or compromised.

In the discussions on labour mobility, we should focus on unscrupulous recruiters, outsourcing agencies and human traffickers who exploit the desires of migrants and only view them as commodities instead of human beings.

Governments must take responsibility to put into place effective and transparent mechanisms that should regulate recruitment to protect the rights of migrant workers.

Unfortunately some governments have also viewed migrants as commodities instead of human beings as labour mobility has been included in many bilateral and regional trade agreements.

Trade unions will continue to promote the decent work agenda and ensure that migrant workers’ rights, including Freedom of Association, are respected in these debates.

While we participate in the Global Forum on Migration and Development, this forum has given precedence to bilateral agreements and not effectively prioritised decent work and migrant workers’ rights.

I will reiterate: migrant workers’ rights cannot be protected through non-binding mechanisms, bilateral agreements with no reference to UN normative framework, informal networks with no monitoring systems and no genuine participation of civil society.

We look to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to take a leadership role and see the ILO’s tripartite mechanisms as being the most transparent, accountable, participative and substantive for future dialogue and cooperation on migration.

I speak on behalf of the 200 million members of the global trade union movement.

Trade unions and civil society are part of the solution. We are all here together committed to Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

All human beings are born free with dignity and rights.


This is an edited version of Yuson’s speech to the UN High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development