Migration and the right to housing

"Migrants are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, the enjoyment of housing being among the most endangered rights. The duties of migrants to the host State are equal to those of locals from the moment that they enter the host community, as they are bound by its laws."
- Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing (A/65/261, para. 9)

People on the move, whether they are refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs) or migrants, are particularly vulnerable to a range of human rights violations, including violations of the right to adequate housing. Displaced persons are also particularly vulnerable to discrimination, racism and xenophobia, which can further interfere with their ability to secure sustainable and adequate living conditions. Refugee and IDP camps around the world, particularly when displacement is protracted, are often dilapidated and overcrowded, providing inadequate shelter and services. Often unable in practice or because of their legal status to rent adequate accommodation, many are forced to live in overcrowded and insecure conditions. Migrants will also often end up living in precarious and unsafe conditions in cities and urban areas. Employers may oblige migrant domestic workers or factory workers to live at their place of work.

Standards

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families states that “migrant workers shall enjoy equality of treatment with nationals of the State of employment in relation to access to housing, including social housing schemes, and protection against exploitation in respect of rents” (art. 43 (1)(d)).

The Convention relating to the status of refugees (1951) states in article 21 that: “As regards housing, the Contracting States, insofar as the matter is regulated by laws or regulations or is subject to the control of public authorities, shall accord refugees lawfully staying in their territory treatment as favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances.”

General recommendation No. 30 (2004) of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calls on State parties to “guarantee the equal enjoyment of the right to adequate housing for citizens and noncitizens, especially by avoiding segregation in housing and ensuring that housing agencies refrain from engaging in discriminatory practices.”

General Comment No. 20 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, states that “The Covenant rights apply to everyone including non-nationals, such as refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, migrant workers and victims of international trafficking, regardless of legal status and documentation” (para. 30).

The Workers' Housing Recommendation of the International Labour Organization from 1961 (No. 115) is of course as well applicable to migrant workers.

In August 2005, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights adopted the Principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons, also known as the “Pinheiro Principles”. Article 2 of the Pinheiro Principles states that “All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any housing, land or property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived.”

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, issued by the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, recall that all IDPs have the right to an adequate standard of living and that, at a minimum, regardless of the circumstances and without discrimination, the competent authorities shall provide IDPs with and ensure safe access to basic shelter and housing (principle 18).

States have as well declared in the New Urban Agenda adopted in October 2016 by the UN-Habitat III Conference:

“We commit ourselves to ensuring full respect for the human rights of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants, regardless of their migration status, and support their host cities in the spirit of international cooperation, taking into account national circumstances and recognizing that, although the movement of large populations into towns and cities poses a variety of challenges, it can also bring significant social, economic and cultural contributions to urban life.” (para. 28)

The Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations submitted by the High Commissioner in 2018 to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/37/34 and A/HRC/37/34/Add.1) cover as well right to housing issues of migrants that fall outside the specific legal category of “refugees”. They are as well available as an OHCHR publication in English.

Special Rapporteur (from 2014-2020) Leilani Farha elaborated Guidelines for the implementation of the right to adequate housing (2020), including Guideline no. 10: “Ensure the right to adequate housing for migrants and internally displaced persons”. They state that:

  1. States must ensure the equal enjoyment of the right to housing without discrimination for all internally displaced persons and all migrants, regardless of documentation, in conformity with international human rights and humanitarian law.
  2. There should be no discrimination on the basis of immigration status in access to emergency shelters and States should ensure that housing providers are neither permitted nor required to convey information to authorities that would discourage undocumented migrants from seeking shelter for themselves and their families.
  3. Effective protective mechanisms must be in place for migrants to secure effective remedies for violations of the right to housing and non-discrimination.
  4. Refugees and internally displaced persons who have been unlawfully or arbitrarily deprived of their former homes, lands, properties or places of habitual residence must be ensured a right to return consistent with the principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons.

Report: migration and the right to adequate housing (2010)

The report of the Special Rapporteur analyses the specific legal entitlements and protections granted to migrants with respect to the right to housing in international treaties and other international legal instruments. To shed light on the reach of the applicable legal provisions and their applicability to migrants, the report examines the interpretation of the relevant human rights monitoring mechanisms. Furthermore, the report assesses the challenges faced by documented and undocumented migrants in gaining access to adequate housing, paying particular attention to the situation of migrant workers in low-skilled and informal jobs, undocumented migrants, migrants belonging to minority groups and migrant women and children. Finally, the report explores some regulations and public policies affecting the right to adequate housing of migrants and provides examples of good practices.

See the report (A/65/261) in all six UN languages.

Related documents and publications

GMG Principles and Guidelines, supported by  practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable  situationOHCHR and Global Migration Group: Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations (2018)

OHCHR has led the development of a set of principles and guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations.
Migrants who fall outside the specific legal category of "refugee" may find themselves in vulnerable situations because of the reasons for leaving the country of origin, the circumstances in which they travel or the conditions they face on arrival, or because of personal characteristics such as their age, gender, disability or health status.

The Principles and Guidelines provide guidance to States on how to operationalize the international human rights law framework and related standards in such situations.

PDF: English

Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants – Report on the enjoyment of the rights to health and adequate housing by migrants (2010)

This report outlines the challenges to realizing the right to adequate housing faced by migrants, including challenges to accessibility, security of tenure, the impact of forced evictions, and the specific challenges faced by migrant women and children. The Special Rapporteur notes the lack of comprehensive, human-rights based policy or monitoring in this regard, and adds examples of good practices and recommendations for the realization of the rights to health and adequate housing of migrants.

See the report (A/HRC/14/30) in all six UN languages

IOM and UN – The Human Rights of Migrants (2000)

This report, published soon after the appointment of the first Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, explores the challenges to the human rights of migrants, and protection of those rights in principle and practice.

PDF in English

Other resources

OHCHR: Migration and Human Rights Webpage

International Organization for Migration - Shelter

Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants