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United Nations (UN) experts urge more action to ensure dignity, equity and justice for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent

In a statement to mark the International Day for People of African Descent, UN experts said States must do more to combat the multiple forms of discrimination and violation of rights facing people of African descent.

"Today we celebrate the achievements and resilience of people of African descent, in the face of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, racialised brutality perpetrated by law enforcement officials, and the climate crisis, among other challenges.

The International Day for People of African Descent is also an opportunity to assess the lived experiences of people of African descent around the world, promote and protect their rights, and call attention to the challenges and barriers many continue to face in the realisation of their rights. Such assessments highlight the continued precariousness and racialised experiences of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent.

As UN experts we have highlighted the situations ofHaitian migrants, refugees and asylum seekers,people of African descent seeking refuge from Ukraine, and the under reported plight of migrant workers of African descent in the Middle East and Gulf states, many of whom are victims of trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation. Most recently, we called foraccountability in the Melilla tragedy,when at least 23 Africans attempting to cross the Spain-Moroccan border in Melilla lost their lives. The tragic images of Africans killed on the edge of the European Union, stood in sharp contrast to the support rightly provided to Ukrainians and laid bare the deep racial biases that sit at the heart of many contemporary border control policies and practices. It was a tragic reminder that States have to scrutinise their laws and practices and focus on safeguards and obligations on the use of force and non-refoulement, as part of holistic efforts to address racial discrimination, and uphold their duty to treat migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with dignity.

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers of African descent not only risk disproportionate victimisation from conflict but face grave violations such as detention in inhumane conditions, human trafficking, exploitation, and forced transfers as they seek to make further perilous journeys to other countries in search of better opportunities. The added dimension of gender-based violations, sexual exploitation, and abuse at the hands of traffickers is a lived reality for many women and girls of African descent.

International migration is constant and many push factors for the migration and displacement of those of African descent, including climate change and conflict, have deep historical roots within colonial practices and their devastating legacies. International human rights law provides a robust framework for the protection of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. It is therefore incumbent on states to not only safeguard the lives of persons of African descent on the move, but to ensure that their human rights and dignity are also preserved with special protection measures for those – like women and children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those battling health conditions – who are most at risk.

We remain especially concerned by accounts of racial profiling, excessive use of force, and other violations of international human rights law by law enforcement officials, many of which remain largely underreported, because of fear of reprisals, negative experiences in previous interaction with law enforcement, lack of sensitivity or training of law enforcement officials, the belief that the complaint will be superfluous, and lack of appropriate data collection.

Whilst we commend the UN Member States that have taken some protective measures, more must be done. We call upon States to take into account the multiple, interconnected and compounding forms of discrimination, which are faced by people of African descent in their interactions with law enforcement authorities, resulting from nationality, migration status, gender, colour, age, religion, disability, socioeconomic and other status. States should translate their commitments under international human rights law into accountability and redress, and tangible improvements in the lived situation of people of African descent. States should also exercise due care and diligence in the treatment of people of African descent on the move, and guarantee their access to safety, development and justice."

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
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