Image source - https://bit.ly/31B7rEN

This article is written by Shriyanshi Chitransh, student of FIMT school of law. Here, I have given a brief overview on Xenophobia having an impact on the life of migrants and refugees and how global organizations have worked to reduce it at the global level.


We are in the year 2020 but the world is struggling by humans’ tendency to discriminate against other humans based on their nationality, colour, religion, or sex. According to UNHCR, 76.5 million people around the world are forced to flee their country. Among the figures, 26 million were refugees and around half were under the age of 18. People are growing to be anti-refugees and anti-migrants and acting violence and discriminating against the migrants and refugees. The severity of this phenomenon is evident in the reports of mistreatment and discriminations. Both documented and undocumented migrants and refugees are facing high levels of hostility and inconvenience. There are so many stateless people who are denied a nationality and deprived of basic human rights. NGOs and human rights organisations such as UNHCR, UNICEF, etc are constantly taking action against any mistreatment and spreading the word to be welcoming to the migrants and workers.

History of the word Xenophobia

The word Xenophobia is as old as you think it might be. With all the evidence it suggests that it originated near the late 19th Century. The term Xenophobia means fear of different, or foreign. Xenophobia derived from greek term Xeno which means strange or foreign and phobia for fear. The Oxford English Dictionary gave a liberal meaning of Xenophobia as irrational, deep-rooted, hatred towards foreigners or a person that doesn’t follow their cultures. 

Download Now

There are two types of Xenophobia:

  • Cultural Xenophobia: People are so xenophobic that they can manifest other people from their cultures such as clothing or language.
  • Xenophobic towards immigrated people: The most common type of Xenophobia is the one towards immigrated people. This may result most often because of the mass immigration of a group of people from their country to another in search of employment and better livelihood. This results in violence and discriminations against those immigrated people.

Human rights approach to international migration

As of now, migrants and refugees should be the concern considering the fact that they are in the most distress situation. Luckily, more consideration is given to the protection of the immigrants and refugees by the NGOs and human rights organization. Fortunately, Migrants rights have emerged as an important topic of discussion in many migration-related conferences and forums but the same discussion has to result in some concrete action. A decade ago, an extension to migrants of basic human rights principles was there in the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their Families which was built on the ILO’s 1949 and 1975 Convention on the subject. Recently NGOs and organizations are working towards reviving these norms, particularly by initiating a global campaign for the ratification of the UN convention.

Human rights recognize that rights are for every person irrespective of their ethnicity. Human rights are universal and applicable to everyone. These rights cannot be denied to anyone. A human right framework may acknowledge where Xenophobia is motivating or compelling migration. This framework allows us to know where exactly Xenophobia is affecting the treatment of migrants and refugees.

Establishing a rights-based approach towards protecting migrants and refugees from Xenophobia

  • Core Rights: No one can deny the fundamental humans rights of migrants and refugees. These rights are penned down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other two major human rights treaties are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These two covenants are approved by the United Nations and are under legal obligations to ensure effective implementations. These core rights in these instruments are applicable to non-citizens and these rights are enforced in all the states irrespective of their inclusion of parties to the relevant treaties. The standards that have to be followed in the matter of employment for the migrants have been enshrined in several International Labour organization’s Conventions and Recommendations. 

The 1949 Convention No. 97 regarding the discrimination against the migrants and refugees on the basis of nationality, race, sex, or religion in matters of allowances, remuneration, hours of work. Minimum wage, social security, etc. The ILO’s 1975 Migrant workers Convention (NO.143) further defined the rights of migrant workers to their family reunification and to preserve their ethnic identity and cultural ties with their origin countries and to have freedom for the choice of employment after successfully being resident for two years for employment. 

The 1958 ILO Convention No.111 on discrimination in respect of employment and occupation prescribed any distinctions, exclusion or preferences made on the basis of race, religion, sex, political opinion or social origin which has the effect of diminishing or impairing any equal opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation. All these conventions have been approved by a significant number of states, and are expected to be accepted by other countries too. Convention No.111 has received 151 ratifications whereas Convention No.97 has 41, and Convention No.143 has been ratified by 18 states.

  • 1990 UN Convention on Rights of Migrant workers and their families: The 1990 UN Convention on Rights of all the Migrant Workers and their families provide a legal framework for the protection of the migrants against all forms of xenophobic culture. The Convention applies to all the legal and unauthorized or irregular migrant workers. It states that the migrant worker should be upheld for slavery or any type of forced labour must not be demanded from them. The local government should take legal action towards persons or groups who use violence against the migrant worker or threaten them into doing irregular tasks. The significance and relevance of the provision in these conventions can be precise in the following points:
  • Migrant workers are seen more than labourers and economic units. They are social groups with families and have rights including that of their families.
  • The Convention acknowledges the fact that migrant workers and members of their families’ rights are unprotected in the state of employment. Their rights are often not recognised by the legislation of the receiving states (countries they migrated to) or by their own state of origin.  
  • Through the Convention, the definition of migrant workers, categories of migrant workers and the members of their families are defined. It also establishes the standard of treatment of the human rights of the Migrant workers and the members of their families.
  • Fundamental human rights are applicable to all the migrant workers and the members of their families both legal and unauthorized, with additional rights being granted for the legal migrants and their families.  
  • The Convention plays a prominent role in diminishing and preventing any type of exploitation and hostility against any migrant workers and their families.  
  • It makes an effort to establish minimum standards of protection for the migrant workers and the members of their families that are globally recognized. It serves as a mechanism to encourage the states lacking national standards to bring their legislation in closer harmony. 
  • Withstanding the fact the Convention specially addresses the migrant workers and the members of their families, implementation of the provisions will provide a sense of protection to all the vulnerable migrants who are in irregular situations.

Acknowledgement or recession by 20 states is required for this instrument to come in operation and be part of International law. It may then be considered as a reliable standard of good practice, and thus may exert strong persuasive power over the non-party states, who have not agreed to be bound by the standards.

  • New Protection for Trafficked Persons and smuggled Migrants: The Protocol against Trafficking in Persons- Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol) and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air (Migrant Smuggling Protocol), adopted by the General assembly in the year 2000, are enshrined with the provisions of protecting these vulnerable sections of the society. It is expected by the states parties to the trafficking Protocol are to protect the privacy of the trafficked victims and ensure that they are given access on legal proceedings and to produce their views and concerns during the criminal legal proceedings against the offenders and to provide facilities for the recovery of the victims of the trafficking physically and psychologically and physical safety of the victims within the territory and the domestic laws ensure the victims of receiving compensation. Special requirements for the children’s education and housing facilities are to be taken care of in the application of the provision. The government is required to take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of trafficked people from re-victimization and preventing trafficking.

Whereas the protection provisions of the Migrant Smuggling Protocol are not as vast as The Trafficking Protocol, the former includes a number of provisions aimed at protecting the basic rights of smuggled migrants and preventing their exploitation and any other related offences which often accompany the smuggling process. States are required to take all appropriate measures to protect the internationally recognized rights of smuggled migrants.

  • The Special Character of the refugee protection regime: Giving importance to the protection of the migrant workers should not minimize the need for protection of the refugees, who are fleeing persecution. The principles provided in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol may be neglected by policies aimed at eliminating irregular migration. 

The 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 Protocol were landmarks in establishing the standards for the treatment of refugees which are as relevant as they were in 1951. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an international agency aimed at providing international protection to the refugees and other persons of concern. It looks particularly in the application of conventions for the protection of refugees.


What we can do to fight Xenophobia

Immigrants and refugees all around the world are facing suspicion and hostility now and then. They are running for their lives and trying to fit into society considering the norms of Xenophobia and racist citizens. Celebrating other cultures sends out the message that Xenophobia and racism will not be part of civil society. This is our job, this is our duty, as a citizen, as parents, as citizens to find ways to combat this disease wherever we can and prove that Xenophobia and racism are not healthy and they are injuring the life of millions. 

Here are five ways:

  • Celebrate each other’s culture: There is absolutely nothing productive about the global health emergency. The least we can do is to support local businesses, run by immigrants, and make them feel home. Coronavirus is a threat to all of us and we should try and protect the most vulnerable among us. We should teach our kids and people around us to appreciate and respect other cultures, as we all are from the same planet and in this together. There is no greater joy than celebrating mankind together.
  • Call out bigotry and hate speeches: Around the world, we are witnessing immense amounts of hate speeches among the Americans and Europeans. They differ in putting up with the people that are not part of their culture and tend to defame them and often blaming them for the difficulties in their lives. Look out for people who are going through such situations and if you overhear telling racist jokes, or spreading Xenophobia, correct them and let them know stereotyping is extremely harmful and dangerous. Teach your children to do the same. There is nothing more important than making people feel safe and secure. 
  • Stand up for people being harassed and intervene if it is safe to do: If you see someone being harassed stand up for them, they may not say things because of fear but they need our support more than anything. It is important to help if it is safe. When people stand in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, bullies tend to lose their power. We cannot let the bullies normalize the verbal and physical abuse. Everyone has a right to live with dignity and harmony. 
  • Educate children about kindness and how to talk about differences: Prejudice against people from different backgrounds and hate are not natural. We are nurtured in a way to grow up being xenophobic and racist. Children become biased when they see adults around them doing the same thing. Make children realize that all lives matter and we are all the same. 
  • Support human rights organizations like UNICEF: Human rights are bestowed to every human in this world and UNICEF have been tirelessly working to provide the need of a child. They are creating policies and introducing measures to help a child live a normal life. Children are supposed to live a peaceful and healthy life. Children uprooted by war, poverty needs our support.


The protection of migrants and the refugees from the Xenophobic hostility, discrimination and violence need concrete action, approaches, coordination, and strategies. Various initiatives by NGOs and human rights organizations seem viable and effective implementation is required. All of this and more are needed to encourage people to come forward and stop people from blaming other people for any little inconvenience in their life. The fundamental basic human rights are universal and applicable to everyone irrespective of their origin country and ethnicity. We are living in the 21st century and this kind of hostility and discrimination should have been long gone. All migrants and refugees have the right to live with harmony and dignity. 


  • https://www.unhcr.org/en-my/figures-at-a-glance.html
  • https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/refugees-racism-and-xenophobia-what-works-to-reduce-discrimination
  • https://www.unhcr.org/55cb153f9.pdf
  • https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/practical-ways-address-xenophobic-violence
  • https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/5-ways-fight-racism-and-xenophobia/34567
  • https://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/migration/taskforce/docs/wcar.pdf

LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here