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Human rights of migrants at international borders in North Africa and the Sahel

Roueida EL Hage, Regional Representative, OHCHR, MENA


Dear audience and colleagues,

On behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, I would like to welcome you and to thank you for joining us today for this multi stakeholder workshop on the human rights of migrants at international borders in North Africa and the Sahel.

OHCHR is the leading United Nations’ entity on human rights, and we have a mandate to promote and protect all human rights and to help empower people to claim their rights through inter alia education, capacity building, and promotion of civic space.

This includes promoting, protecting, and fulfilling the human rights of all migrants, regardless of migration status. We promote a human rights-based approach to migration, which places migrants at the center of migration policies and governance, and seeks to ensure that migrants are included in all relevant national action plans and strategies without discrimination.



Our work on migration is supported by a dedicated Unit at headquarters in Geneva, as well as being conducted by our numerous regional and country offices around the world. Within North Africa and the Sahel, this work is carried out by our regional offices based in Dakar and Beirut, as well as our country offices in Niger, Mauritania, and Tunisia and a dedicated human rights team within the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Libya.

Contemporary migration is a complex and contested phenomenon. Notwithstanding that many of the estimated 281 million migrants in the world today chose to leave their countries of origin, an increasing number of migrants are compelled to leave their homes for a complex combination of reasons, including poverty, lack of access to health, education, food, an adequate standard of living, just and favourable conditions of work, the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, conflict and persecution. Motivations for undertaking these journeys are also increasingly complex, and will often change as migrants make long and often precarious journeys to countries of transit or destination.

Even as migration is a positive and empowering experience for many, it is becoming more and more apparent that significant violations of human rights in transit and at international borders are taking place due to lack of a human rights-based approach to migration governance. Along migration routes all over the world, millions of migrants lack access to their human rights, creating risks for their lives, their security, and their dignity.

As all of you are aware, thousands of people continue to risk their lives along migration routes from Sub-Saharan Africa through the Sahel and North Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The persistent lack of secure and regular migration pathways leaves many migrants with access only to irregular pathways that are marked by risk, abuse, and rights violations.

Our Office has consistently emphasized that international borders are not zones of exclusion or exception for human rights obligations. In the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), States recommitted to implementing border management policies that respect and uphold obligations under international law, including the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status. In our Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders, our Office has recommended a number of concrete measures that States can take to ensure that migrants’ human rights are met when they arrive at international borders, in the exceptional circumstances in which they may be held in immigration detention, and when they are returned to countries of origin or third countries.

Civil society actors, academics, national human rights institutions, and other stakeholder partners play an essential role in integrating human rights in border governance, by holding Governments accountable, by advocating for better laws, policy and practice, by providing direct services to migrants, by amplifying their voices, and by providing independent human rights-based monitoring and oversight.

We know that many of you here today have born witness to the struggle to ensure that migrants within this region are able to access their human rights along the length of their migration journeys, including at international borders. It is our hope that this workshop today will provide increased tools to facilitate this work, as well as opportunities for exchange for us all to learn from one another, and learn in particular how we can support one another and collaborate. We look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout the course of the day.