Including migrants by ensuring access to education and health services

22 August 2012, New York, USA — The UNITAR New York Office, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with sponsorship by the MacArthur Foundation, organized a seminar on “Social Inclusion of Migrants: access to Education and Health Services”, as part of the 2012 Migration and Development Seminar Series. The course, which aimed to explore the social inclusion of migrants through the lens of access to basic rights of health and education, gathered over forty participants from the United Nations, civil society and the academic field.

H.E. Mr. Palitha T.B. Kohona (Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations), reminded the participants that migration, which could be translated as the fight for a better life, is not a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, today’s globalization, economic opportunities or natural disasters, among others, have generated new migration flows that encounter difficulties of integration in their new host societies. Also, Ambassador Kohona remarked that Sri Lanka, a ratifying country of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1996), has conducted several social consistent policies including the Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Action Plan. The Government also adapted the World Health Assembly Resolution on “Health of Migrants” of 2008 in a national agenda.

Mr. Jacob Kumaresan, the Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that health is an essential aspect for the protection of migrants. Taking into account that migrants' health rights are determined by the country of destination, he listed a series of successful examples where national health systems were able to overcome ethnic differences, linguistic barriers and to give demographic responses. Nonetheless, he highlighted that there is still a long way to improve social inclusion policies. Ms. Maria Pia Belloni Mignatti (Representative to the UN for the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP)) noted that in 2011 the European Union recognized health care as a human right, including for migrants in irregular situation. Despite this regional progress, many national laws contradict this universal right recognized for undocumented migrants. To date, there are still 20 Member States of the European Union which provide no access to health to undocumented migrants; 3 Member States which ensure partial access to health; and 4 Member States which recognize the same health rights for migrants and nationals. There remains, however, a Human Rights-Based Approaches in new migration policies based on non-discrimination, participation and accountability for a real social integration.

The panel on overcoming the challenges to social integration through access to health and social services was addressed by Ms. Brenda Haiplik (Senior Education Advisor, Emergencies, of the United Nations Children's Fund – UNICEF). Ms. Chandra Roy-Henriksen (Chief of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), highlighted the challenges a migrant worker faces in maintaining identity and culture in the new host society. From a public perspective, there is very little data available to prepare and address a response and actuation in this matter, especially regarding indigenous people inclusion. Finally, Mr. Rhon Reynolds (Co-Chair of the African Black Diaspora Global Network -ABDGN), exposed the relationship of migration and mobility and its impact on HIV, from the lens of the African and black diaspora community, including migrant population. He ended up by promoting an international intersectional, cross-sector and cross-jurisdictional share of knowledge among institutions and partnerships.