United for a Cause

20131001_130007On Tuesday October 1st, BTCC Director Tiffany Williams and I had the pleasure of attending a lunch meeting with 9 migrant worker activists and professionals focusing on issues involving migrant workers, domestic workers, human rights, development, immigration, and policies. They were representatives of the Migrant Forum Asia, and were in town to strategize for the UN High Level Dialogue happening in New York City this week.

The meeting was held at the Solidarity Center. The Solidarity Center is a non-profit organization located in Washington D.C. that work with unions as well as community groups to achieve equitable, sustainable, democratic development.[1] The organization also helps men and women to stand up for their rights, but also improve their living and working standards.[2]

The Migrant Forum Asia activists (from Sri Lanka, Japan, India, Nepal, and the Philippines) were joined by Solidarity Center staff, along with members of the migrant rights community in the United States, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Free the Slaves.

In only one hour of discussion and organizational exchange,  we had enough time to share facts, stories, and issues that revealed a common pattern and system of abuse of migrant workers – including in countries were there are decent laws on paper, but insufficient enforcement.

Other common issues that were discussed included the charge of excessive or illegal fees, lack of transparency and even fraud in the recruitment process, high death rates due to insufficient health and safety protections, violation of wage standards, the denial of medical services and basic necessities, passport and document withholding, and the “kefala” sponsorship system in many gulf countries that ties the worker to the employer.

The UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD) is seen by the International Organization of Migration (ILO) as an important foundation to improve the protection of human rights for migrants, perceptions of migrants and migration, and the reflection of migration.[3]

The UN High General Assembly will hold the 2nd High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York on October 3rd and the 4th. The ILO have policy recommendations that will include improving the perceptions of migrants, factoring migration into development planning, the protection of human rights, management of migration in crisis situations, enhancement of evidence and knowledge base, and the promotion of policy coherence as well as institutional development.[4]

This lunch meeting was one of many informal pre-HLD discussions about the situation of migrant workers and what needs to be done to improve.  Pressuring the governments to change policies, inter-country collaborations, learning from and adapting relevant laws from other countries, and, most importantly, educating and organizing workers to resist exploitation.

-Melissa Zacarias: Educational and Worker Organizing Intern

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