International alliance of people’s organizations calls for protection of the rights of migrants and refugees

COMMISSION 16: Rights & Welfare of Refugees, Migrant Workers & Homeless Persons

The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) today said that an estimated 214 million people currently live outside their country of origin and this has resulted to a myriad of problems concerning rights of migrants.

The ILPS promotes, supports and develops the anti-imperialist and democratic struggles of the peoples of the world. It strives to realize the unity, cooperation and coordination of these struggles. Established in May 2001 in Zutphen, the Netherlands, it is set to hold its 4th International Assembly this July. Among its 18 concerns are the rights and welfare of displaced persons, refugees and migrant workers.

“All over the world, migrant workers and immigrants are facing a resurgence of racism. The negative impact of the global financial crisis on the employment rates of countries has caused local residents to attack immigrants and migrants, unfairly and erroneously blaming them for taking away their jobs and depleting government funds. But even before the rapid deterioration of global economies began, xenophobia already existed against migrants. In host countries, migrants have long suffered discrimination in housing, education, health, work or social security,” said Grace Punongbayan of Migrante-Europe.

Punongbayan said that international institutions involved in migrants rights document how migrants arriving in new countries are often subjected to discrimination.

Anti-migrant laws

“It’s not only the so-called ‘illegal migrants’ who are stopped by the police and then detained in prisons, but even those who arrived with legally processed documents. In detention, the migrants are often denied their rights to be properly informed of charges and they are kept in prison without proper judicial safeguards. In the meantime, as is the experience of thousands of Filipino overseas workers in countries such as those in the Middle East, there is an increasing tendency among host governments to criminalize migration offenses and to deny migrants due process even under international human rights laws,” she said.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, one of the biggest hindrances between migrants and their social integration in their host countries are the persistent anti-migrant sentiments and discriminatory practices, some of them even sanctioned by governments through legislation.

“There are various laws, regulations and policies that discourage or even prohibit migration, including the criminalization of irregular migration. The global economic crisis and rising unemployment have further aggravated this,” she said.

In Israel, residents in various communities hold rallies against foreigners, calling them ‘infiltrators” and demanding that they leave. Residents are also demanding that the government take action to deport illegal migrants and refugees; some have taken to petitioning local landlords to deny migrants houses or apartments.

Last May, the governments of France and Italy reintroduced border controls in emergency situations. This was after the European Commission called for new regulations regarding the national borders of EU members.

The 25 countries covered by the passport-free Schengen zone will be able to temporarily impose controls at their frontiers in the event of a sudden influx of migrants from nearby conflict-torn North African countries Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad, and Niger. The EU is considering establishing a border patrol, highten surveillance along the borders and frontiers, and re-establish agreements with North African governments to regulate immigration and migration.

In Switzerland, the country which has historically claimed itself to be the most neutral, racism has reared its ugly head. Conflicts with the Muslim immigrant population escalated after a rightist party in parliament became stronger.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) in 2009 called for a referendum that resulted in a ban on mosque minarets. Up for public referendum is a proposal that will let the government to immediately deport all convicted criminals from other countries and even their family members.

The Land Down Under, Australia, has its own host of anti-immigration laws with an immigrant population of 5.5 million.

Its Migration Reform Act of 1992 and the amendments made to it in the last two decades collectively call for the detention of non-citizens without a valid visa. From 1999 to 2003, more than 2,000 child refugees from Southeast Asia and the Middle East were imprisoned under the law. They were children seeking asylum. The Australian government came under fire from the international human rights community for the abuses and human rights violations that child refugees suffered in detention. The law then went under a new round of amendments but it remains in effect to intercept and detain illegal immigrants.

In 2009, the Japanese government passed the Nikkei law wherein $3,000 was paid courtesy of public coffers to each unemployed Latin American immigrant of Japanese descent (known as Nikkei in Japanese) and $2,000 to every member of the unemployed worker’s family. The money was to enable them to return to their country of origin and never to return. At the time of the law’s passage, some 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians lived and worked in Japan.

Intensified exploitation

The United Arab Emirates has a population that is 83.5 percent comprised of immigrants numbering 3.75 million. The country has an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor from India and Southeast Asian countries. Migrant workers suffer harsh work and living conditions, including an 80-hour work week and extreme manual labor. Migrant workers are given below-minimum-wage pay and no overtime pay. Companies provide them with cramped pre-fabricated dwellings where only a dozen could take shelter.

“The threat of losing their jobs and the consequences of unemployment are immense for migrant workers and those without permanent resident status. Daily they run the risk of being deported and face poverty without a single guarantee of social protection from the governments of their countries of origin,” said Punongbayan.

Governments all over the world have developed policies and programs to curb immigration but at the same time exploit existing migrant labor as a means to curb balance of trade and payment deficits and generate foreign-exchange revenues.

Punongbayan also said that in the last decade, because of the devaluation of international currencies, migrant workers have been faced with no choice but to further lower their standards of living in the host countries.

“Because of the international financial crisis, they’ve had to send more money to compensate for the lower exchange rate at a time when their own costs of living have increased,” Punongbayan said.

Punongbayan said that with the global recession, many migrant workers have been exposed to various forms of racism, from comments to threats to even acts of violence. Manufacturing workers in countries where there are ILPS-member labor unions and formations say that while racism predates the recession, there had been an increase in racist attitudes from the general public.

“About 214 million people who live outside the countries of their birth are more vulnerable to the economic and political problems and conflicts in their respective host countries. Most migrants come from poor or oppressed nations. Women migrants are the most vulnerable, and besides suffering through unjust labor conditions, many also fall victim to human trafficking for profit,” Punongbayan noted. “These problems faced by migrants, immigrants and political refugees can be traced to governments imposing the neo-liberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization dictated by the IMF-WB -WTO as well as other international financial institutions and trading blocs. Forced out of their countries of origin because of lack of steady and reliable employment, various peoples of the world become the main source cheap labor in their countries. They are then left almost completely without protection from the governments of the countries they called home,” she said.

Punongbayan said that in the name of “international sharing of human resources,” governments in advanced countries exploit migrant workers and immigrants through labor and employment policies that pit migrants against migrants, and migrants against local workers.

“Despite the huge financial contribution of migrant workers to the economies of both source and receiving countries, very few comprehensive measures are enacted to protect their rights. All over the world, there’s a dearth of humane and just policies on the recruitment, labor and health policies covering migrant workers,” she said.

“Much has to be done to expose and oppose labor export policies which institutionalize the commodification of labor and consequent abuse of migrant workers. Efforts must also be made to hasten and ensure the recognition of the right to asylum of political refugees. All over the world, migrants and political refugees call for the full and strict implementation of international conventions protecting and upholding their rights,” Punongbayan said.

In its upcoming international assembly, the ILPS will sponsor workshops on rights and welfare of displaced persons, refugees and migrant workers.

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