The treatment of migrants is one of the most challenging human rights issues today. An estimated 214 million people currently live outside their country of origin, many having moved for a variety of reasons, in which the search for protection and the search for opportunity are inextricably entwined. While for some migration is a positive and empowering experience, far too many migrants continue to endure human rights violations, discrimination, and exploitation. In the last two decades, immigration has risen to the top of the political agenda of many governments and international organisations worldwide. The growing problematisation of migration and migrants result in social policies, laws and practices that are at odds with the ethical message embodied in the concept of human rights and its universal premise. While international and regional human rights instruments confer rights and freedoms on migrants as persons and thus human rights-holders, human rights regimes struggle to extend protections to all migrants. Tensions, at times acute, constrain human rights protection for migrants.
Racism and other forms of discrimination and human rights violations as well as shape e the everyday lives of users of social work services in a variety of ways. Racism is one of the key social problems social workers have to address. It is critical that social workers gain an understanding of the discrimination and marginalisation processes within society that lead to racism if they are to identify and respond to racist practices. These include anti-Muslim racism, racism against undocumented migrants, and ‘racism without colour’. Various human mechanisms seek to combat racism. It is thus imperative that social workers understand and implement relevant human rights provisions as well as contribute to the development of anti-racist social policies, including the work of the CERD Committee.
For social workers, there are particular challenges in meeting the needs of those subject to people trafficking and smuggling and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Social work has had to articulate new practice responses to provide specialist support to groups such as survivors of torture. Within the field of migration, there is considerable scope for more organised development of the advocacy role of social workers at national and international levels, including the development of alliances and collaborative action to support more humane and just policies.