Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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.

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