Human Rights of Migrants at Stake

– Malaika Kadam


Migration, be it international or internal, leads to innovation, an educated workforce, occupational specialization and altogether has an extremely positive effect on the economic and social productivity of the host nation or region. But what are they getting in return other than discrimination, lack of identity, exploitation, lower wages, harassment and everything which basically violates their human rights? Despite multiple measures taken internationally by United Nations and nationally by governments and judiciary to protect the human rights of the migrants, their status still remains as that of an outsider. The major reason being their incapacity of putting electoral pressure over political institutions. Unfortunately, the lives and basic necessities of migrants are not respected. This raises a question over our country which being the largest democracy is unable to protect the rights of not only the international migrants but also the internal migrants, who are actually the citizens of this country.


Human Rights, Migrants, Impact on economy, Violation, Political Institutions, Measures.


Human rights, as the name suggests, are rights conferred upon human beings, regardless of their caste, creed, race, sex, nationality, colour, religion and other aspects. Human rights include right to life, liberty, equality and dignity. These rights are applicable universally and can be called as a common language of the global society. Migrants can be defined as those people who move from their country or region of origin to another place for various social, economic and political reasons, such as, better living conditions, employment, education, etc. They may move temporarily or permanently. Migration may happen either within the national borders, i.e., across states, or across international borders. International migrants include legal migrants – those who move into the country with legal permission from the host country; illegal migrants – those who get in the country without legal permission; and refugees – who leave their country in order to safeguard themselves from persecution. Forced migrant is another kind of migrant, where a person is forcefully immigrated, for e.g. – through smuggling or trafficking.

According to estimates released by United Nations in 2019, the total of international migrants all around the planet was around 272 million, out of which 17.5 million had India as their country of origin, making India the leading country of origin of international migrants. Our country is a home to more than 5 million migrants, which is around 0.4% of our total population, most of which have Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as their country of origin. According to the 2011 census, there were 450 million internal migrants in our country. Migration not only acts like an agent of social change and widens people’s mind-set but also have a great impact on the economy of the host region/country. Remittances from international migrants majorly source foreign exchange. While international migrants are one of the drivers of the nation’s economy, internal migrants’ contribution impact around 10% of the country’s GDP. All in all, migration doesn’t just have positive social impact but also have significant impact on the economic growth.

Despite the immense economic and social contribution, migrants are still seen as outsiders and a burden over the system and resources, by the host administration. The defences taken by the political institutions is based on the ‘sons of the soil’ theory and hence their rights are denied.      Migrants from the north-eastern states of India struggle to find their identity as citizens in their own country. Another major reason behind political ignorance towards such matters is the incapacity of migrants to vote in elections of host region/country and hence they fail to put electoral pressure over the government. Denial of certain fundamental rights such as rights mentioned under Article 15, 16, 17, and 18 of the Indian Constitution can still be survived, but denial of human rights cannot be accepted at all as right to life is one of the human rights, and any sort of compromise with this can quite literally put their survival at stake. Human rights being universal in nature, should remain inherent to every human being. Despite this being as clear as a crystal, the human rights of migrants are compromised with utmost attention, then be it an international migrant or an internal one.

Instances of human rights violations of migrants

  1. Migrant workers during lockdown – In March 2020, our government ordered a strict nationwide lockdown which led to suspension of all basic amenities. Millions of migrants were affected by this and faced crisis of food, basic amenities, employment and social support. Around 300 deaths were reported due to starvation, lack of timely medical attention, police brutality, suicides, etc. Multiple videos went viral of police misbehaviour and brutality towards migrant workers across the country. Additional 80 deaths were reported while traveling through the Shramik Special Trains. It is quite clear that the objective of nationwide lockdown was to put a break on spread of Covid-19 and eventually a break to the resulting casualties.  But leaving these daily wage workers solely on their own to survive this lockdown, which eventually led to multiple deaths defied the main purpose of the lockdown. When India’s rich and middle class were clapping hands on their terraces and balconies, human rights of millions were being compromised. Even now when the lockdown has ended, migrant workers are either unemployed or underemployed due to over supply of labour in certain regions.
  2. Female Migrants – It is evident through the census of 2011, that women form around 70% of the internal migrant community. Out of which only 2.7% had moved for employment, while the majority of 71.2% had moved for marriage and may have eventually found a job. When females think of migrating, they face multiple social and structural barriers, such as, approval from the family, lack of dignified jobs for women, fear of gender discrimination, etc. When a woman manages to migrate to an urban area seeking better living conditions, her fear turns into reality and she ends up encountering the challenges of low wages, sexual exploitation, health hazards, etc. Especially women as domestic and construction workers are the ones whose human rights are almost non-existent, as they are not just migrants but uneducated and unaware of their rights and policies made for their upliftment. Right to equality is not just a human right, but a constitutional right as well, but unfortunately even when we replace ‘human’ with ‘constitutional’, it hardly makes any difference.
  3. Refugees – AlthoughIndia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention but the human rights of refugees are protected by the Constitution of India. The Rohingya Refugees are provided with long term visas and refugee cards by UNHCR. Despite this, the refugees encounter several problems like difficulties in getting jobs because of lack of documents, and even when they manage to get jobs, they end up being underpaid, unsanitary living conditions, lack of medical attention, sexual harassment of women and the constant deporting announcements which are against the constitutional guarantees, and makes them anxious. In this case as well, the constitutional guarantees and protections don’t seem effective enough.

Measures taken to protect human rights

Internationally, multiple measures have been taken in the form of commissions and councils. Some of them are:

  1. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is responsible in UN system for the promotion and protection of human rights. The High Commissioner has the authority to investigate migrant related situations and further report on them.
  2. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body responsible for the strengthening and protection of human rights of people across the globe and has authority to address instances of violations and recommend solutions for them.
  3. The UNDG-HRM focuses on UN coordinated responses to and requests Member States for their support in fulfilling their human rights commitments, with their key priorities being strengthening coherence, delivering results and ensuring national level impact.

On the national level, the Constitution of India recognizes these rights of the people and shows deep concern towards them. The Constitution guarantees most of the human rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Part III and Part IV. Judiciary is the ultimate saviour of the people’s human rights as it not just protects the rights enshrined in the Constitution but also widens the scope by providing certain unenumerated rights by interpreting the fundamental rights. Women, children, economically and socially weaker sections being the most vulnerable towards violations of human rights, have been protected by multiple steps taken by the judiciary. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been adopted in 1989, in order to provide more protection to the future of our society. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, had also been adopted with an objective to protect human rights of people as in the absence of human rights their is no meaning of life and a person will never be able to perform at his full potential. The clause (d) of subsection (2) of section 2, recognises rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity guaranteed by the constitution or embodied in the International Covenants, under the umbrella of human rights.


All the measures that have been taken so far, are taken with the view of protecting the human rights of people around the world and the nation, but still the main focus revolves around the citizens of the country and domiciles of the region as the government is the one in charge and therefore, political influence is in play. Migrants still remain neglected. No doubt the citizens’ human rights are also denied sometimes but migrants are more vulnerable as they are not the so called “sons of the soil”. The political institutions encourage such denial as it benefits their vote bank. But the question here is, are such institutions only responsible for the degradation of migrants? No, they are not the only ones guilty. People who support the vote bank of such parties on the basis of the denial of human rights of the migrants, are equally guilty. Being humans, we must try to comprehend their situation like our own and must make an efforts to step in their shoes. Had there been some situation where the Indian migrants across the globe faced racism or some of their human rights were compromised, our rage would have flooded over all the social media sites, multiple rallies would have taken place in order to manifest our displeasure and annoyance. But what we forget is the old yet classic proverb that – “Charity begins at home”.


  1. C Negi Advocate; Human Rights Violations of Migrant Workers in India during Covid-19 Pandemic; 18 June 2020
  2. Iasparliament; Problems faced by Rohingyas in India; 10 September 2017
  3. Protect Human Rights; United Nations
  4. Inter-agency Human Rights Mainstream Mechanism; WHO
  5. Image source- United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner;

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