From a migrant civil society perspective, there was a lot to like about the opening speech of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon for the GFMD common space. For once, he was the first after 4 speakers who explicitly mentioned the rights of migrants. He also urged for the ratification of several central UN and ILO conventions. However, several civil society delegates voiced objections (at the GFMD venue and via social media) to his final sentence:
In the published written versions the sentence reads as this:
“Let us work together, collectively, to make this world better for all, including everybody, men and women, migrants whether they are illegal or legal, to make this world better for all and put all of us onto a sustainable path.”
This version is linked on the official GFMD website:
If my hearing still is correct after years of loud music, he slightly changed this in the spoken version to “illegal or legal Status” which makes it slightly less offensive but still an issue for many migrants’ rights activists, which for a long time have been campaigning that “no human being is illegal”. What some might consider a case of overt political correctness has much deeper implications from this perspective: It is seen as part of the trend to criminalize migrants and dehumanizes them. While it is a basic principle of law to make acts illegal, in this case a person is made illegal. But as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau pointed out during the 2011 GFMD “Crossing a border has never hurt anyone, it is not a crime against property or security”.
In fact, in the final speech during the opening session of the GFMD common space, Michele LeVoy, Chair of the Civil Society Days of the 2014 Global Forum on Migration and Development, and director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants stressed the importance of language in the discourse on migration. She explicitly spoke out against referring to migrants as “illegal”. To avoid controversy over an otherwise positive message, he UN writing team might take note for future speeches…