The plight of migrant workers and their families is one of those intractable issues in the field of human rights. In the current anti-immigration climate in many developed industrialized countries, economic migrants are often misunderstood. They are easy targets for politicians and the media in difficult economic times and are considered a threat to the host society, particularly those that enter the country of employment without authorization. Illegal migrants are frequently perceived as 'scroungers' on the welfare state, as criminals, or as potential trouble-makers. The hardships these people face and the many difficulties they have to overcome in countries of employment are rarely reported at any length. Occasionally, we are informed of the very dangerous conditions irregular migrants experience in transit at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers, stories which often have a tragic conclusion.
In international law, migrant workers and their families share a common feature with refugees, namely they are aliens in the host society. As non-citizens and without formal membership of the community in which they reside, migrant workers and their families are at greater risk from the discretionary whims of the sovereign state. Unlike refugees, however, they have traditionally been provided with far less attention and protection by the international community, even though they outnumber refugees considerably. In recent years, the closing of borders to involuntary migrants has also resulted in great hardships for those who voluntarily seek to make a better life for themselves beyond their countries of origin. Despite this perceived lesser status, international human rights standards have not neglected this vulnerable group and one of the aims of this book is to highlight the norms that exist.
My interest in the plight of migrant workers and their families was first stirred by a series of excellent and informative lectures given by Virginia Leary at the University of Strasbourg in July 1987 at the 18th study session of the International Institute of Human Rights. The enthusiasm and devoted efforts of Virginia Leary in the human rights field have always served as inspiration for my own work.
The origins of this book lie in a doctoral thesis that was written at the University of Ottawa in Canada between 1989 and 1992. My interest in the subject would probably have not been realized but for the financial assistance that enabled me to undertake studies in Canada. Consequently, I remain grateful to those that made this possible. Bill Pentney, the former Acting Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, and Eugene Meehan, the former Head of Graduate Studies at the Faculty of Law in Ottawa, were very instrumental in making the necessary administrative and financial arrangements which enabled me to travel to Ottawa and study there. During my studies, my sponsors consisted