Areas of Work

Refugees and Migrants

QUNO works to protect and strengthen the rights of refugees and migrants at the UN level. We seek to uphold the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of circumstance, and work to see this equality of all people better reflected by the international community in the treatment of people on the move.

We work with the UN human rights mechanisms, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others to advocate for responses to people on the move that are firmly rooted in international human rights principles. Using our traditional methods of bringing different actors engaged in this work together, we aim to create a more humane global vision and approach to people on the move.

QUNO is actively engaged in the follow up to the New York Declaration, a high-level document agreed by States on the 19th September 2016 focussed on addressing large movements of people. The declaration sets in motion a series of processes at the UN level which aim to improve global governance in this area. QUNO sees this as a significant opportunity to develop a more rights-respecting global framework for addressing large movements of people.

Our work also involves engaging with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on refugee protection issues (in particular related to conscientious objection to military service), ending statelessness and other matters related to forced displacement.

Recent Timeline Events

April 2017

Expectations for a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: New paper

QUNO is closely following the process for negotiating a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This process part of the UN’s response to the large numbers of people on the move around the world. The Global Compact was mandated by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a high-level statement adopted by States on 19th September and is due to be adopted in September 2018.

Following the adoption on 6 April of General Assembly resolution 71/280 on the modalities for developing a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, QUNO has prepared a short paper on expectations of the process.  This contains the steps which we believe are needed to support the adoption of a human rights based Global Compact (as called for in the New York Declaration and the modalities resolution). 

QUNO’s previous paper on the Compact, on input to the modalities resolution, is here.

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April 2017

Civil Society Key Messages for a Human Rights Based Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration must be grounded in international human rights law.

This is the central message of a new paper produced by a group of Geneva-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are interested in a human rights-based response to migration at the UN level. QUNO convenes this group of NGOs, with a particular focus on ensuring a human rights basis to this new international agreement on migration, which is due to be adopted in 2018.

Ahead of the first thematic consultation of this process, taking place in Geneva on 8th and 9th May, this group has produced a set of key human rights messages for the Compact. These are:

  • Ensure the full and active participation of migrants as primary stakeholders, including the participation of civil society organisations and NHRIs working directly with or on behalf of migrant and diaspora populations.
  • Ensure respect for the principle of non-discrimination irrespective of a person’s migration or residency status. Action must be taken to counter xenophobia and prevent hate crimes targeting people on the basis of their migratory or perceived migratory status.   
  • Ensure that migration is not criminalised and prohibit all unlawful or disproportionate border measures.
  • Ensure the human rights of all migrants who are particularly at risk, paying particular attention to migrants with specific needs who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that heighten their vulnerability.
  • Ensure that migratory status is not a bar to access to economic, social and cultural rights, particularly essential services, including healthcare.
  • Develop and implement accessible, regular, fair, and safe migration pathways, facilitating the regularisation of migrants in an irregular
  • Ensure that any returns or removals are carried out in full respect for the human rights of migrants, in safety and dignity, and in accordance with international law.
  • Ensure that protection of the human rights of migrants is recognised as a legal obligation of States, and not only a matter of humanitarian assistance. International standards and national laws and practices must enable judges and lawyers to play their essential role in upholding the rights of migrants and the rule of law.

We hope to see these points, and the centrality of human rights, raised throughout the preparatory process towards the adoption of this agreement.   

Please see the attached for the full document. 

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March 2017

A focus on the human rights of migrants at the Human Rights Council's 34th Session

The 34th Session of the Human Rights Council concluded on 24th March. During the session there were some important discussions and decisions relating to the human rights of migrants, an issue we are working on closely. 

On 10th March the Human Rights Council held an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights of migrants in the context of large movements. This was the first time that the Council held a discussion dedicated to migrants’ human rights after the September 2016 adoption of the New York Declaration on refugees and migrants, and its initiation of the development of a Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration. The Declaration – a high level political statement, and the Global Compact - a proposed new State-negotiated international framework - represent important shifts in how the international community addresses human mobility and displacement. As such, the Human Rights Council’s discussion came at an important time, giving it an opportunity to speak to the role of human rights within this new international agenda.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the High Commissioner, stated during the discussion:

'The international community has an unprecedented opportunity in the next two years to... learn from the experience of migrants, and to build a Global Compact that provides safe, rights respecting migration, and to ensure that future generations are spared the hell of desperate, precarious journeys.' 

QUNO followed this discussion closely, and we co-signed a joint oral statement that was delivered during the debate (attached). Our current priority is for the Council to play its part in making sure that the Global Compact is people-centred and underpinned by and consistent with international human rights law.

We also prepared a Briefing for Friends that examines these UN initiatives in more detail. It further describes how we are actively engaged in this work, as well as ways that Friends around the world can engage with, and benefit from these UN level initiatives.  

Laurel Townhead, Representative for Human Rights and Refugees delivered two statements for QUNO related to the human rights of migrants during the session. 

1. The first statement welcomed a set of Principles and Guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations and within large and/or mixed movements, developed by the Global Migration Group, and called on States to endorse them. See here for the video of the statement (number 59 on right hand panel).

2. The second statement called for a human rights basis to the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration, with a particular focus on the importance of the role of existing UN human rights mechanisms in its development. See here for the video of the statement (number 25 on right hand panel).

QUNO was also pleased that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants was renewed in a resolution at this session. Finally, we further welcome the decision of the Mexican mission to run a substantive resolution on the human rights of migrants in the June session of the Human Rights Council.

Looking ahead, we encourage sustained attention to this issue by the UN human rights mechanisms, particularly in light of the upcoming consultations for the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

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