Migrants in Europe, the United States and many other parts of the world are subjected to the worst forms of racial discrimination and xenophobia, a U.N. independent investigator said Monday.
Githu Muigai, a Kenyan lawyer, said many other groups are also victims including ethnic minorities attacked because of their minority status, individuals stopped and searched because of their perceived religious or ethnic background, and soccer players insulted because of their color.
He reiterated his opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law because it compromises basic international human rights that migrants are entitled to.
Muigai, the U.N. Human Rights Council's special investigator on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, spoke to reporters after presenting reports to the General Assembly on efforts to eliminate these practices.
"If I have found any specific group of people to be the subject of the most insidious contemporary forms of racial discrimination, those are migrants," he said. "And I think in many parts of the world today, immigrants bear the brunt of xenophobic intolerance — and this is true of the United States, and it is of Europe, and it is of many parts of the world."
Muigai said international law doesn't prevent any country from enforcing "a fair, open, transparent migration policy." And he said he appreciates the need for countries, especially in southern Europe, to deal with immigrants arriving illegally by sea from Africa and other parts of the world.
"All I have been saying in my reports is that we need to develop systems, structures, and policies in an international legal environment in which we can address the legitimate concerns of the receiving states while being able to safeguard the fundamental humanity, in my judgment, of the immigrants," he said.
Muigai said he is concerned that the Arizona law, now been challenged in a federal appeals court, "does not respond to minimum human rights standards."
The law targeting illegal immigration requires police enforcing another law to question a person about his or her immigration status, if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the United States illegally. It also makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally.
"This is the sort of statute that opens a floodgate, equips a policeman or such other law enforcement person on the beat with such immense powers as to compromise, in my view, the very, very fundamental human rights that ought to be enjoyed in such an enlightened part of the world as Arizona," Muigai said.
He urged all countries to ensure that migration policies are "at all times consistent with international human rights instruments."
"Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to have all their human rights protected by the state where they live without discrimination," Muigai said. On the issue of inciting racial or religious hatred, he said criticizing religious doctrines and teachings is a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. But he expressed concern at violence and discrimination against individuals based on their religious beliefs, attacks on religious sites, and religious and ethnic profiling.
Muigai also stressed that no state is immune from extremist political parties, movements and groups with "a thinly veiled racist agenda, a xenophobic agenda."
He said some European parties "that have as their fundamental platform the exclusion of foreigners and the propagation of an ideology that is essentially racist" are extremist.
But he said he would hesitate to include the U.S. tea party movement, a coalition of groups which he said are trying to debate how government is organized and managed, with immigration policy just one issue.