Brighton Law School blog

Do Migrants have Human Rights?

This is a very controversial issue that strikes at the heart of everyone. Whenever the question ‘Do we all have human rights?’ is asked, the answer always comes ‘Yes, everyone has human rights’. When it’s then asked ‘and what about migrants?’ the answer remains ‘Yes, of course, they too have human rights, they have unlimited human rights’. Well, recent cases suggest this is not quite true.

A case like Jimmy Mubenga’s highlights the inhuman treatment of migrants in the UK. Jimmy, an Angolian deportee, died after Home office officials, despite having handcuffed his hands, forced his head down, thereby restricting his breathing as the flight returning him to his home country was about to take off. Jimmy cried out ‘I can’t breathe’ but the officials refused to let go, leading to his death. One would think a case like this would require a human rights assessment and action against those responsible but no…the officials have been cleared of manslaughter. So tell me … where are these human rights? This is but one case where migrants have been treated unfairly: over the years there has been wide spread criticism about the excessive force used against migrants during removal procedures.

Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to see that our very own lecturer Marie-Benedicte Dembour sheds light on this issue. I had the pleasure of listening to Marie’s introductory podcast Do migrants have human rights too on her book ‘When Humans become Migrants that will shortly come out, and I must say I’m glad I have done this, and look forward to the next episodes. Not only does her research address this very controversial topic ‘Human Rights’, but it also points us in the right direction for our Legal Project.

Her book examines the way the European Court of Human Rights treats claims lodged by migrants and whether international human rights law remains true to its purpose of upholding human rights in migrant cases. It analyses relevant case law providing arguments in favour of migrants. Marie suggests that migrant’s human rights are often violated with little or no action by the Strasbourg Court when claims are brought by migrants, as seen also at domestic level such as in the Jimmy Mubenga’s case.

As an international student, I can relate to this. If they come for me and you do nothing, who do you think they will come for next? Our human rights have been limited over the years as seen in cases like Eric Garner’s and Michael Brown’s. Go listen to Marie’s intriguing podcast and have the dance of joy with me. For interested students, get hold of her book too. As she says, the question is, migrants first, who next?

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Woyengitari Ikemike • 12/01/2015

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