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The Responsibility to Protect Migrants

CORK – Migrants face countless perils. Vicious mafias smuggle them across borders with reckless disregard for their lives. Rapacious recruiters fleece them of their earnings. Abusive employers exploit their labor. And, adding insult to injury, anti-immigrant sentiment erodes the political will to confront these challenges.

Yet, when it comes to protecting migrants’ well-being and rights, smart practices abound – and should be promoted more widely and implemented more frequently. With the number of international migrants on track nearly to double in the coming decades, such practices must become reference points for action.

The plight of migrants is particularly tragic when its source is violent conflict, like in Syria and Libya, or natural or manmade disasters. In crises like these, migrants’ lives and physical safety are jeopardized through no fault of their own. Yet the world has no clear guidelines for how to protect them.

Libya’s civil war placed the vulnerability of migrants in stark relief, with hundreds of thousands caught in the crossfire. And, while Libyans were badly affected by the war, foreign workers were even more vulnerable, as they were largely left out of schemes aimed at protecting civilians. What stood out were the very different fates migrants faced. Most were left to their own devices to escape the violence, and many died trying. Some were killed after being falsely targeted as mercenaries (largely owing to the color of their skin).