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International Migrants Rights Day

  • 25 Dec 2023


International Migrants Rights Day is an annual observance that celebrates the contributions and resilience of migrants and advocates for their rights and dignity. It is held on 18 December, the date when the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families in 1990. This convention is the most comprehensive international treaty on the human rights of migrants, covering a vast spectrum of issues such as non-discrimination, freedom of movement, fair working conditions, social security, and family reunification.

However, despite the existence of this and other legal instruments, migrants often face exclusion and exploitation in their host countries. Therefore, International Migrants Rights Day is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities of migration, and to foster a culture of inclusivity and solidarity among migrants and their host communities. This article explores the history and significance of International Migrants Rights Day.


The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6% of the global population. The estimated number of international migrants has increased by 128 million since 1990 and by 223 million since 1970.

In 2020, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines and Pakistan were the top five remittance recipient countries, with total inward remittances exceeding $83 billion and $59 billion for India and China, respectively.

Since 2014, more than 50,000 migrants have lost their lives on migratory routes across the world. In 2020, over 59 million people were internally displaced by the end of 2021.

Purpose of Celebrating/Observing the Day

The purpose of celebrating International Migrants Day is to recognize the important contribution of migrants to the economies and societies of their host and home countries, and to advocate for their rights and dignity.

The conditions and challenges faced by international migrants are ubiquitous across the globe but often ignored and lack effective solutions and implementation procedures.

There is an inevitable need to incorporate inclusive practices and behaviours toward international migrants in many countries, ranging from schools, colleges, universities, workplaces and even neighbourhoods, such that the migrants feel welcomed and are not discriminated against.

Theme for 2023

The International Migrants Rights Day 2023 focuses on the theme “Promoting Safe Migration”. This theme underscores the vulnerability and marginalisation often experienced by migrants and displaced individuals, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and its recovery. It also highlights the need to improve the governance and management of migration, in line with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was adopted by the UN in 2018. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners in promoting safe migration for health and well-being.

Challenges and Obstacles

  • Many migrants encounter barriers to enter their destination countries, such as strict visa requirements, border closures, physical fences, or even violence by border guards or smugglers.
    • A huge number of migrants are detained for administrative reasons related to their immigration status, such as irregular entry, overstaying, or awaiting deportation.
  • Some migrants resort to dangerous routes or modes of transportation, risking their lives or falling prey to human trafficking or exploitation.
    • Many migrants face poor living conditions in their destination countries, such as overcrowded camps, inadequate sanitation, lack of health care, or limited access to education or work opportunities.
    • Some migrants also face discrimination, xenophobia, or racism from the host communities or authorities.
  • Surveys have shown that migrants seek protection as refugees, but face lengthy, complex, or unfair asylum procedures that may result in their rejection, detention, or deportation.
    • Some migrants are denied access to legal assistance, interpreters, or information about their rights and obligations. Some migrants also face the risk of refoulement, or being returned to a country where they may face persecution or harm.
  • Often, migrants are also children who travel alone or are separated from their families along the way. They face specific vulnerabilities and challenges, such as abuse, exploitation, violence, or trafficking.
    • They also need special care and protection, such as guardianship, family reunification, or best interest determination.

National Significance (Interactive World Migration Report 2022)

According to the UN, India had the largest diaspora in the world in 2020, with 18 million people living outside the country. India also hosted about 5.2 million international migrants in 2019, mostly from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

India has been actively involved in the global efforts to promote and protect the rights of migrants, such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted in 2018. India has also taken several initiatives at the national level, such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the Overseas Citizenship of India, and the e-Migrate system, to facilitate and support its diaspora and migrants.

Types of Initiatives and Movements

There are various types of initiatives that are organised around International Migrants Day, such as:

1. Awareness-raising campaigns: These initiatives aim to inform the public about the realities and challenges of migration, the rights and responsibilities of migrants, and the benefits and opportunities of diversity and inclusion.

a. They also seek to combat misinformation, stereotypes, and discrimination against migrants.

b. Examples of such campaigns are the ‘I am a migrant’ and the ‘Together’ campaigns by the UN.

2. Advocacy and policy dialogue: These initiatives aim to influence the decision-makers and stakeholders to adopt and implement laws, policies, and practices that respect and protect the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status.

a. They also seek to promote cooperation and partnership on migration issues at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

b. Examples of such initiatives are the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the International Migration Review Forum by the UN.

3. Capacity-building and empowerment: These initiatives aim to enhance the skills, knowledge, and resources of migrants and their communities to enable them to access their rights and participate in the social, economic, and political life of their host and origin countries.

a. They also seek to support the integration, resilience, and development of migrants and their societies.

b. Examples of such initiatives are the Migrant Resource Centres and the Migrant Rights Initiative by the IOM.

Future Scope of Developments

Some possible improvements that can be included in the status of international migrants across the globe is improving the governance and cooperation on migration issues at the local, national, regional, and global levels, through the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Enhancing the access and protection of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, such as through the ratification and enforcement of the 1990 International Convention on Migrant Workers can prove beneficial in this direction as well.

Some other significant ways in which the status and condition of international migrants can be uplifted is by supporting the integration, inclusion, and empowerment of migrants and their communities in their host and origin countries, such as through providing adequate housing, health care, education, skills training, and social services. Recognizing and celebrating the diversity, resilience, and contribution of migrants to their host and origin countries, such as raising awareness, combating discrimination, and promoting solidarity through individual and community efforts, in addition to governmental and civil society initiatives are some useful recommendations for every global citizen.


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