What is freedom of movement?
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) all people are entitled to the recognition of inherent dignity and certain inalienable rights, which are the “foundations of freedom and justice in the world.” Freedom of movement is part of the “liberty of man” (Jagerskiold) thus making it one of the most basic human rights. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulate:
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.
The right to free movement, or the denial of it, within national and international borders can have profound effects upon other basic human rights also outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other treaties. Without the right to leave ones home, an individual may be politically repressed, prevented from observing his/her chosen religion, prevented from enjoying the basic right to marriage or family life, or blocked from a job or an education that ultimately could enhance his/her quality of life. Thus, while free movement may seem on the surface to be a fairly minor and obvious human right, it actually is one of the most basic rights that in many nations around the world, when violated, causes numerous problems and cases of suffering.
Who does the freedom of movement affect?
This inalienable right to liberty extends to all citizens of the world. While it may seem that this right is meant to apply mainly to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, it also has major ramifications on internally displaced persons and additionally economic migrants or even students:
Refugees have the potential to face a more difficult situation as far as their rights to free movement are concerned. Given that they have fled their old country of origin or nationality due to a well founded fear of persecution on one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (see Refugees study guide), they do not have the ability to return to their old country. However, within their new life they are completely in the hands of a new government, which has not guaranteed citizenship to the refugees, as is the case with asylum seekers. Thus, due to the fact that the government has to find a place for these people to make their new lives, which can include refugee camps, then freedom of movement and subsequently the right to make a new and better life has the potential to be infringed upon.
Asylum seekers face problems similar to those of refugees given that they have been forced out of their country of origin or nationality in search of a new and better life. However, in this case, unlike refugees they have applied for a recognized status within their new country. Freedom of movement most often affects asylum seekers while they are waiting for their applications to be processed recognizing them as being under the protection of a new government. These people have in the past had their movement restricted to certain boundaries while waiting for applications to come through and this is in clear violation of their basic human rights.
Immigrants are directly affected by this freedom due to the fact that they have entered a new nation intending to settle there. If they are not allowed into that nation, or the government in any way restricts movement within their new society, then clearly this is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Internally displaced persons, or those that have left their home in fear of persecution but have not crossed any international borders, face the same challenges as refugees except within their country of origin or nationality. This group of people poses a particularly interesting problem because they are subject to internal exile, another form of persecution and a violation of the human right to liberty. In this given situation those who have fled their homes are forced to remain in a specified area of the country and any movement outside this zone is forbidden.
Additionally the right to free movement affects economic migrants, those who have fled their homes not in fear of persecution but in search of a higher standard of living, which would bring increased job and educational opportunities. In this case some states have placed restrictions on those who wish to leave in order to curb the “brain drain” a situation that has begun to occur in less developed countries in which the educated professionals of that nation have begun to leave for other nations in which they have the opportunity to make a better living for themselves and their families. Thus, in this situation people are looked upon as economic agents and not as human beings. If restrictions are placed on these people not only is freedom of movement being restricted but ones ability to provide for a family is also being infringed upon.
Additionally, students also face the threat of having their right to obtain an education violated if their freedom of movement has been removed due to fear of the “brain drain” or other restrictions that may have been placed upon them. Obtaining visas to travel out of a country is difficult for those coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Additionally, once again many governments concerned about the brain drain worry that these students may not return home after receiving an education. This difficulty or even refusal of a visa is in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties. Thus, while it may not be obvious that students would have their right to liberty of movement infringed upon this is a very real problem in many nations for a variety of reasons.
Each of these groups of people have left their homes in search of better job opportunities and a higher quality of living for themselves and in some cases their families, another basic right guaranteed to mankind. Freedom of movement and subsequently choice of residence allows individuals the rights to choose vocations, which best suit their abilities, and additionally provides people with greater access to education thus contributing to the flow of ideas from nation to nation. However, many would make the case that there are reasons for limits to be placed on certain individual’s freedom of movement. In certain cases restrictions on movement are admissible when the security of a nation or an entire group of people is at stake. If an individual or a group has committed an atrocity within a nation their free movement may be taken away in order to prevent them from fleeing the country and escaping trial.
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