Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Migrants Are Not For Sale!

by Colin Rajah

The media coverage of this WTO meeting has been relatively impactful. But the unfortunate focus on sensationalist stories, such as supposed threats of "riots" and "violence" by protestors, especially the large Korean farmers delegation, have been gravely exagerated. At the opening march and rally, the farmers staged a "swim" to the WTO's convention center - hardly a case of "rioting" or "violence" the mainstream media seems intent on delivering.

In spite of the many creative acts of protests both inside and outside the WTO convention center, what the media has been missing are the other real stories. The negotiations among WTO delegates are probably no match for the the intense discussions between the vastly disparate groups that are outside the convention center. These revolve around the WTO's policies and its impacts on various sectors of society, as well as sharings, encounters and exchanges on the day-to-day realities communities face due to globalization. The resounding message from migrant groups were that "Migrants are not for sale" as well as demands that we not be treated as commodities.

Migrant Forum Asia (MFA) led a No to GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) march and rally, right up the convention center and faced a stand-off with the police and an increasing presence of the riot squad. Negotiations between the march's leaders (including MFA's William Gois) with the police officers, proved futile as the police seemed intent on keeping us as far away as possible from the convention center's holy perimeter. In spite of the sudden blockade being erected by the police, the migrant groups present chanted loud and strong, played drums, danced, and made our collective message clear that the WTO had no right to trade migrants within the GATS policies.

Our own US Asian Pacific Islander (API) delegation organized an intense session, where migrant youth and workers shared stories about the impacts of globalization on them and their communities, and heard very similar stories from migrants from Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and Cambodia.

We joined other migrant groups to take similar messages to the many embassies located here, culminating of course at the U.S. embassy. And tomorrow, we will have our joint forum on Mode 4 (the WTO's proposed global guestworker program) alongside AFSC and MRI. But even before then, its clear that we have raised the issues of the interlinkages of migration and globalization, and more importantly, raised the voices and perspectives of migrant communities about these. One thing should be clear to the WTO by now, migrants are NOT for sale!

Raids, Detentions, Deportations, Harrassment & Persecution: Migrants at the WTO meetings

by Colin Rajah

My nerves began tensing up in that familiar way as I walked up to the immigration officer. Been through this a hundred times before but each time it seems like holding my breath becomes almost a reflex reaction. My papers were in order, I had been informed by the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco that, like U.S. passport holders, I wouldn't need a visa if I entered Hong Kong for less than 90 days. So I should be ok. But i've thought that before with less than desirable consequences.

In a manner of formality, the officer asked me my purpose for entering Hong Kong. I told him the WTO meetings. He looked up at me. Uh-oh, I've seen that look before, and not long after I found myself sitting in the interogation center alongside other migrants. After 2 more hours of intense questioning and interrogation, and in spite of my documentation of where I would be staying, the details of our symposium, phone numbers and contact info of everyone I thought could vouch for me, the interrogating officer informed me that he was still unsatisfied with my responses and he would be denying my entry into Hong Kong. I would be detained and deported on the next flight back in the morning.

My frustrations and persistence turned to desperation. I pleaded with them to call at least one of the contacts I had provided. No luck. I was being searched, most of my personal items were being taken away in a big envelope, and I was being escorted to the detention center. I was at least allowed a couple of local phone calls.

Despite (or maybe because of) my impending sense of depression, I immediately called Genevieve Gencianos of Migrant Rights International (MRI) eventhough it was past 1am. Gen understood the situation immediately, having dealt with similar ones countless of times before. She consoled me and said they would mobilize around it. I also called Alex of Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), part of the Bay Area WT-No delegation to inform him and the delegation who had stayed up late worrying why I hadn't arrived, that I wouldn't be able to make it.

More than 10 hours later and less than 1-1/2 hours before my scheduled departure back to the U.S., and after a few more "interviews" with my officer, I was told that I was being released. Turns out that Gen, along with Jessica Walker Beaumont and Amy Gottlieb of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) had stayed up most of the night, to make numerous calls to various authorities and allies, to demand for my release and entry into Hong Kong.

My co-workers, Arnoldo and Eunice had apparently also launched a snap action alert mobilizing NNIRR members, allies and friends to send faxes, emails and calls to the ranking immigration officer at the airport. It had all worked. The director of the airport immigration department himself came to inform me that due to to each and every one of those, they had reconsidered my case and would grant me entry into Hong Kong for the week.

As I exited the airport detention center, Jessica and Amy were waiting to accompany me to join the Bay Area WT-No delegation, and to begin the week of the 6th WTO ministerial in Hong Kong.

But the week had already begun for many other migrants here. I found out later that a number of Filipino and Pakistani migrants coming to Hong Kong for the same purposes, were also detained and were only released after similar mobilizations pressured the Hong Kong immigration offices to do so. Mentioning the WTO and being an immigrant, seems to trigger an immediately strong response from the authorities.

The offices of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU) and KOTKIHO (an Indonesian migrant coalition) were also raided by Hong Kong police not once or twice, but no less than THREE times in two days, apparently in a vain attempt to uncover random "illegals" and wild accusations of "bombs and explosives". None were found, of course, but the message had been delivered clearly. Let the WTO go about its business or else the harrassment and persecution of migrants would be intensified.

Regardless, it hasn't stoped us. Alongside Migrant Forum Asia (MFA) and Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), we challenged the WTO with a resounding "No to the commodification of migrants", and to declare that "Migrants are not for sale!" We took it right to the door-steps of the WTO meetings, as well as to the numerous embassies whose governments have been in negotiations through the WTO.

And we're not stopping there. More actions and networking activities, are being planned for the rest of the week to send a clear message back to the WTO and its policing authorities - We will not be intimidated in spite of their harrassment and persecution. Migrants have rights, and we will continue fighting for these to be respected in trade deals, and to demand for our right to be heard in spite of the looming obstacles before us.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Preview to the 6th WTO meeting in Hong Kong

by Colin Rajah

Colin Rajah, the International Migrant Rights Program Coordinator of the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights (NNIRR), will be representing the National Network at the upcoming World Trade Organization's (WTO) 6th Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong, December 13th - 18th, 2005.

Part of the San Francisco Bay Area WT-No delegation, and in close collaboration with similar contingents from Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, Colin will be among the thousands of people who will be challenging the WTO and its global economic policies, while trying to uphold the voices of immigrants that are being unheard at the WTO.

The Bay Area WT-No delegation includes Chinese Progressive Associates (CPA), Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP), Korean Community Center of the East Bay (KCCEB), and other activists and artists of Asian-Pacific Islander (API) descent. The national U.S. API contingent also includes the Garment Workers Center (GWC), Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Oranizing Network (MIWON), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, and Community Organizing Committee (CYOC).

In Hong Kong, the National Network will be coordinating a number of activities including co-organizing a solidarity tent with WT-No and the U.S. API delegation at Victoria Park on December 14th & 15th, from 2pm-5pm, for low-wage workers, especially migrant workers. This solidarity tent space is entitled "Building Solidarity Amongst Garment, Farm, and Other Migrant Workers from San Francisco to Hong Kong."

The National Network will also be co-convening a symposium entitled "Migrant Workers, Human Rights & Trade: Unpacking GATS Mode 4" on the WTO's proposed global guest-worker program, alongside the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Migrant Rights International (MRI). This symposium will be at Victoria Park on December 16th from 11am-5pm. Invited presenters and participants at this 1/2-day forum include the Migrant Forum of Asia (MFA), Migrante-International, FOCUS on the Global South, South Centre, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Via Campesina, and many other migrants from around the region and the world. The symposium will overview what Mode 4 entails, the experiences of other guest-worker programs, testimonials of migrant guest-workers from around the world, as well as discuss strategies and collaborations to embark on from Hong Kong onwards.

In the U.S., the National Network has also co-issued a national call to action alongside Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) and Jobs with Justice (JwJ) for a week of action for global justice and immigrant rights from December 10th-18th. In addition, the National Network has also called for vigils and other actions and events for Thursday, December 15th, to recognize International Migrants Day (December 18), including highlighting the role the WTO and other similar economic institutions have played in impoverishing and displacing communities around the world and forcing mass migrations, while proposing and implementing mechanisms such as Mode 4 which violate migrant workers' rights and maintaining a pool of cheap, disposable labor for corporate interests. It is expected that dozens of grassroots and community-based organizations will organize actions in cities across the U.S. on December 15th and throughout that week of action.

Watch this space for postings from Hong Kong and the U.S. about activities and experiences related to the WTO meeting, as well as International Migrants Day!