By Ndey Sowe
Mariama Sowe, president of the Law Students Association University of The Gambia (UTG), has called for collective responsibilities to uphold the laws that are meant to protect migrants and see that their dignity is restored.
Madam Sowe made these remarks on Saturday, 18th December, 2021 as activities marking the International Migrants Day under the theme: “Change the Narrative on Migration” Standup4migrants, Protect4migrants.”
“As a legal institution, I believe it is imperative to take part and contribute towards the promotion and protection of migrant rights in the country and the globe in general. This can be achieved through sensitization programs, symposiums, moot court competitions etc. Relatively, the annual SDK moot court competition organized by the NHRC, is a notable reference point,” Sowe remarked.
According to the UN, 281 million people were international migrants in 2020, which makes around 3.6 percent of the global population.
On 18 December 1990, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the international Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their families. The day aims to raise awareness about the challenges and difficulties of international migration.
Each year on December 18, the United Nations, through the UN-related agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM), uses the International Migrants Day to highlight the contribution made by the roughly 272 million migrants, including more than 41 million internally displaced persons and the challenges they face.
Madam Sowe commended NHRC for this great initiative, saying it has given the law students a platform to discuss real life issues in the form of a hypothetical case before an imaginary court.
IOM defines migration as a person who moves away from his or her usual place of residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons.
The term includes a number of well-defined legal categories of people, such as migrant workers; persons whose particular types of movements are legally defined, such as smuggled migrants; as well as those whose status or means of movement are not specifically defined under international law.
Mobility is part of human nature, and many of us have experienced migration either personally or because our lives have intersected with that of a migrant. A broad range of factors continue to determine the movement of people. They are either voluntary or forced movements as a result of the increased magnitude and frequency of disasters, economic challenges and extreme poverty or conflict.
President Sowe said migration has economic, social, and demographic consequences. Economically, she said the consequence can be both positive and negative; positive remittances are important for the economy of a country. She noted that migrants sent remittances to their families for food, repayment of loans/debts, treatment, marriages, children’s education, agricultural inputs, construction of houses, etc.
“Negatively, it leads to overcrowding due to unregulated migration. Development of unhygienic slums in industrially developed states are also factors. Negative imbalance in demographic structure, age and skill selective migrations created an imbalance in demographic structure of rural areas. Age and sex-composition is seriously affected in states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan due to migration. The same situation happens in the recipient states,” Sowe noted.
“Socially, the consequence can be both negative and positive: positive migrants work as an agent of social change. They diffuse new ideas of science and technology, family planning, girls’ education, etc. from one place to another place. People also bring different cultures with them which help to break the narrow considerations and broaden up the mental horizon of the people.”
Madam Sowe also said negative anonymity increases and creates a social vacuum and feeling of ejection. This feeling ultimately results in anti-social activities such as crime, drug abuse, theft etc.
“Migrants are faced with lots of barriers once they arrive in a new country. They are most likely to face discrimination on the job. This is because there are many problems rooted in how assignments are designed and managed. Moreover, many migrant workers are excluded from labor and safety protections that are enjoyable by native born workers,” she said.
Madam Sowe reiterated that people should have access to healthcare services irrespective of their nationality. However, she said migrants have low rates of medical insurance coverage and poor access to health services. Besides, policy changes have limited migrants’ access to insurance and health care, she noted.
Madam Sowe said these barriers range from financial limitations to discrimination and fear of deportation.
“This has contributed to growing concerns about migrant’s ability to participate in many free health care programs. The theme for this year’s celebration is carefully selected as the Covid-19 surges continue to rise daily.
“Migrants, especially smuggled migrants are vulnerable to this insurgence. The question that we need to ask is whether these migrants are vaccinated? Are they observing the Covid-19 protocols? When they are sometimes parked in overcrowded vehicles or rooms,” she said.
She said borders should be managed humanely, fully respecting the human rights and humanitarian needs of everyone and ensuring that migrants are included in national Covid-19 vaccination plans.
“The pandemic has seen borders across the globe closed with many migrants stranded without income and shelter, unable to return home,” she said.