Saturday, June 06, 2009

From the Swiss Alps to the Greek Seas: NNIRR lobbying in Geneva, movement-building in Athens

By Colin Rajah, reporting from Athens, Greece

June 6th, 2009

Over the decades of NNIRR’s work building deep ally relationships with organizations and movements in other parts of the world, the small window of opportunity to engage in collaboration is never passed. We know all too well that resources to do such critical international advocacy and movement-building are miniscule and fleeting, so we never dare to hesitate.

So it was this time too – the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) was holding its session in Geneva and our international partners Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), both of whom are fellow-members of Migrants Rights International (MRI), had a sliver of funding to organize a series of side events to the HRC. We knew that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, Dr. Jorge Bustamante, would be presenting his report to the HRC, with a focus on migrant children. PICUM had just produced a report on undocumented children in Europe, and both MFA and NNIRR have members with long histories of work with migrant families and children.

At the same time, we’ve been organizing a mass mobilization in Athens in conjunction with the 3rd Global Forum on Migration & Development (GFMD) later this year. This was as close to our version of the perfect storm as we could get to organize critical events and hold numerous side meetings in Geneva, and then stop-off at Athens for some preparatory meetings with allies here.

[Left: Part of our delegation debriefs after one of our side events at the UN]

MFA brought together a delegation of its members from the Philippines, Japan, Israel and the Netherlands, PICUM came over from Belgium, and after an update and briefing by NNIRR’s board member Janis Rosheuval from Families for Freedom, I joined them all. (Pablo Ceriani, another MRI member from CELS in Argentina, and a consultant to UNICEF, was to join us, but he and his partner had their first child themselves!) Together, as part of the MRI network, we organized the following side events at the HRC:

[Right: Domestic Workers side event]

The Special Rapporteur himself was a panelist in all of these. At the Economic Crisis event, the room was over-flowing and a lively discussion followed the panel presentations. It was obvious that the crisis has had a deep and profound impact on human rights in general, but in particular migrant communities around the globe have borne the brunt of increased repression, scape-goating and exploitation.

[Left: Juana Flores from MUA speaks at the Domestic Workers side event]

At the Domestic Workers event, many of the participants came from a delegation of domestic worker groups who were also in Geneva for the 2009 International Labour Conference (ILC) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) – a sort of advance group preparing for the 2010 ILC which will deliberate a domestic workers convention. This delegation included NNIRR’s National Council member, Juana Flores from Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), and Jill Shenker from La Raza Centro Legal, both members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). Juana herself was a panelist at our event, and she was joined by; Anne Marie Suciu, an organizer of domestic workers in Israel (who explained how the closing of the border to the West Bank has seen an increase of household workers brought in from South Asia and a similar increase in exploitation and abuse); Fe Jusay from the RESPECT Network, a domestic worker network in Europe (who challenged the lack of domestic worker voices in the ILO negotiations around the upcoming convention); and Dr. Bustamante (who condemned the elimination of migrant domestic workers from the convention language and agenda.) Ellene Sana, MFA’s chair-person and Director of Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), chaired the event.

[Right: Migrant Children side event panel]

The Migrant Children event included: Michele LeVoy from PICUM (who presented their findings and recommendations for providing basic services such as healthcare and education for undocumented children in Europe who aren’t provided the same rights as other European children); Andrea Anolin from Batis Women’s Center in the Philippines (who helps organize Japanese-Filipino children, or “Yogis”, who are discriminated against and face issues of identity); Naoto Higuchi from Solidarity for Migrants Japan - SMJ (who explained the challenges and discrimination faced by migrant children in Japan, even those of Japanese descent from Brazil); Dr. Bustamante (who re-emphasized the core of his report to the HRC, which documents the increasing trafficking of children due to more restrictive migration policies); and yours truly (who highlighted the work of Families for Freedom in New York who are fighting for the rights of citizen children from mixed-status families that are torn apart by ICE home-raids, deportations etc., and advocating for the protections in the pending Child Citizen Protection Act in Congress.) The trend appears to be that migration policies are being developed within the context of prioritizing “state security” over concerns for the fundamental rights, well-being and safety of children.

Being in the UN halls during the HRC, not to mention ILO halls during the ILC, is a hectic experience -- you never know which government delegate you’re going to run into, what political rumor you’ll learn, and what collaborative venture you’ll be negotiating. This time was no different. Aside from Dr. Bustamante himself (who eagerly agreed to join us in our mobilization in Athens at the end of the year -- see more on that below), we also met with the Mexican government about the GFMD, John Bingham from the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Patrick Taran who is a senior officer at the migration branch of the ILO, Carla Edelenbos who heads up the Committee on Migrant Workers at the UN, Kamalam P. from the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), and many others, even a few who would probably prefer to be un-named!

After 3 busy and hectic days in Geneva, William Gois and Ellene Sana from MFA, and myself headed down here to Athens. As NNIRR has previously reported, Greece is hosting the 3rd Global Forum on Migration & Development (GFMD). Since our organizing of mobilizations around the 2006 UN High Level Dialogue on Migration & Development where all our New York members came together with our partners and allies from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, we’ve committed to co-organizing “parallel events” or more appropriately termed “people’s global actions” to such major global fora on migration.

[Left: Meeting with migrant groups and allies in Athens]

Greece in particular, poses a challenge and an important moment. Coupled with the economic crisis, it is witnessing an unprecedented surge in right-wing sentiment with a corresponding anti-immigrant reaction. Neo-nazi groups have repeatedly harassed, abused and even torched immigrant communities around Athens (just last night a building was set on fire as we were in a community meeting just 2 blocks away!), and the Greek government has intensified its restrictive policy-making. At the same time, there are growing immigrant communities from Albania, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Bangladesh, North Africa or the Maghreb region etc., due to wars and militarization, increasing poverty, as well as even more repressive migration policies in other parts of Europe that force undocumented migrants to flee to Greece.

[Right: Community dinner and meeting at immigrant pre-school and community center, which schools 75 children from 13 countries, and hosts multiple community events including organizing meetings, training sessions, language classes and even temporary housing and shelter for immigrants.]

As such, we’ve spent the last couple of days meeting with local immigrant groups and communities, and anti-racist movements and organizations (many of whom have been a part of the Social Forum processes here), to build deeper understanding and solidarity, and to jointly plan and co-organize a people's forum and mass mobilization that will coincide with the GFMD in November. The events that will build up to this include the annual Anti-Racism Festival next month which regularly sees up to 25,000 attendees, the week-long "Noborder Camp Lesvos" -- an anti-detention camp in August on the Greek island of Lesvos which houses immigrant detention facilities, as well as a number of other immigrant rights mobilizations in the coming months. Of course, there are already other regional and national events being held around the world, including NNIRR's own national briefing sessions in the U.S. which we've begun. In spite of the ever-present state repression and right-wing violence in Greece, the local groups and movements assure us that we might just witness the largest mobilization around the GFMD yet!

In spite of my exhaustion, I can’t contain my excitement from what we've accomplished from our lobbying work in Geneva this past week, and from anticipating a very powerful global immigrant mobilization like the one we’re planning for Athens.

Stay tuned for more followup soon on all of these, or to find out more info, contact Colin Rajah at


malu said...

Hi Colin,

Job well done! Good luck again in September! Looking forward to another vibrant PGA in Athens.
I sure will be there!

More power,

オテモヤン said...