This week, UN Member States are meeting in New York for a third round of negotiations on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

This is an opportunity to develop a new approach to migration that is simultaneously more effective, and more humane. It is a chance that the world cannot afford to miss.

However, this opportunity might be at risk. We are seeing a concerning move by some States to insert language into the Global Compact draft that would create distinctions between the assistance and protection afforded to “regular” migrants versus that offered to so-called “irregular” migrants.

An “irregular” migrant is someone who does not have the necessary authorization or documents to enter, stay or work in a country as required under immigration regulations. But “irregular” migrants are no less human – and no less deserving of their legally-protected human rights.

The truth is that too many migrants face dangers and vulnerabilities. None of them deserve to be attacked, vilified, abused or killed in their search for a safer and better life.

I realize that some people reading this might insist on the right of States to control migration and secure their own national borders. This seems to be the focus of so much of the divisive public debates that we see around the world.

But this is actually not the point. Controlling migration and guaranteeing the dignity and safety of migrants are not mutually exclusive ideas.

States can have a migration system that is both more orderly and more humane. As sovereign entities, they can decide to manage migration in a variety of ways. But such decisions should not and need not increase the suffering and risk of death faced by people migrating.

Ensuring orderly processes at national borders can go hand-in-hand with simple measures that would save the lives and protect the dignity of people on the move.

At the outset of this process, IFRC called on States to prioritize the safety and dignity of all migrants, regardless of status. In this third round of negotiations for the Global Compact on Migration, IFRC hopes that States will take responsibility for ensuring all migrants can get the assistance they need, regardless of their migration status.

We hope that States will ensure that all people migrating have access to basic services, including access to humanitarian assistance and protection without fear of arrest or detention. All over the world National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are helping to ensure this through creating, with support from governments, “safe spaces” where migrants can access the assistance they need and where governments agree not to arrest people due to their immigration status. We stand ready to continue and to scale up this work.

We hope that States will ensure that the most vulnerable people – children, victims of torture and trafficking, pregnant women, people with disabilities and elderly people – are treated with particular kindness and care.

The legal status of a migrant should not prevent them from having their basic needs met, from accessing the rights that every individual human being is entitled to.

Our message to governments is simple and unchanged: save lives and protect dignity. Our message is about humanity.


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Photo credit: Stefano Rellandini / REUTERS