At the end of the Second World War, the international community led by Eleanor Roosevelt, embarked on a journey to prevent the atrocities of WWII from ever happening again. That effort gave yield to the draft document that on December 10, 1948, was adopted as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); which proclaimed the inalienable rights everyone is entitled to as a human being- That is the right to live in freedom, safety and wellbeing regardless of race, gender, nationality, social or political opinion or other status. As time passed, it was clear that these fundamental human rights are still elusive to millions of people, mainly migrants and refugees.
In past five decades, the West (US, Canada, and Western Europe) has seen a steady increase in the number of people seeking refuge in their countries. Increasingly, these vulnerable peoples’ quest to seek a better life for themselves and their families, is made much harder with the advancement of technology which has made countries adopt stricter and more sophisticated border control mechanisms. These vulnerable people exposed themselves to more dangers in their attempt to get to the West such as having to take riskier journeys and rely more and more on people smugglers who take advantage of them. The horror stories told by those who survived these dangerous journeys -mostly youth; from trafficking, assault and exploitation, are all too common stories. It was no surprise then, after decades of the campaign, in order shine the light on the plight of refugees and migrants around the world- on December 04, 2000 the United Nations declared December 18, International Migrants’ Day.
While the plight of migrants is nothing new, due to the war in Syria and other conflicts, the scale of migration has grown exponentially. Sadly, in the last three years, we have seen how these vulnerable migrants, fleeing conflict and poverty have had their human rights curtailed, or altogether denied. As Syrian refugees fleeing the war, with no other alternative to reach Europe embarked on the deadly journey by sea on tiny boats. While we watched in shock and horror on our TV screens, boatloads of migrants capsizing and drowning of dozens and sometimes hundreds in the sea. We were shocked again, to watch the CNN International undercover footage, that shows African migrants trying to get to Europe being sold into slavery in Libya for as little as $400. As we ponder on why people will put themselves at such grave risk, to make it to the West, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres provided a fitting response. He stated migration is not a new phenomenon, it has only been exacerbated due to instabilities, inequalities and labor demand, our responsibilities are through collaboration to solve the factors that increase mass migration while safeguarding the rights and safety of these migrants.
The Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo shared, during a joint press conference with French President Macron in Accra on December 4, 2017, that African youth are not taking the hazardous journey to Europe because they want to, they are doing it due to the lack of economic prospects at home. He continued, should socio-economic climate in their country change, many of these youngsters would not embark on this odious journey. People have always moved to escape wars, persecution, and poverty. This is true for African youths, as it is for Syrian refugees and other migrants from all around the world.
President John F Kennedy once said, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened” Bearing in mind the millions of people around the globe, whose human rights are continuously threatened daily, advocating for the human rights of all is still as pertinent today as it was 70 years ago. It is evident that tighter border securities do not deter people fleeing wars, persecution, and poverty, but it does diminish our collective human rights. What can deter mass migration and reduce the rampant abuse of their fundamental human rights, are as highlighted by the UN Secretary-General and President Akufo-Addo above; working collaboratively to foster peace, create opportunities and ensuring safe movement of people who choose to migrate. As we reflect on the challenges and successes of the last 69 years of UDHR, and we gear up for a year long celebration of the 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us all do our part to champion this year’s theme: stand up for human rights- let stand up for the freedom, justice and dignity for all peoples.