Amar Bhatia reports back from UN HLD, PGA, IAMR

On behalf of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), I appreciated the opportunity provided by the Canadian Labour Congress, to attend the recent meetings in New York City in and around the UN High Level Dialogue (HLD) on Migration and International Development.

I spent my time between the two outside events: the People’s Global Action (PGA) on Migration, Development, and Human Rights, and the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR 4).

I was there representing MWAC (formerly Coalition for Change), which is ‪a coalition of migrant workers and allied organizations made up of community groups (Justice for Migrant Workers, Caregivers Action Center, and Migrante Ontario), national unions (UFCW, Unifor), legal clinics (Parkdale Community Legal Services, Windsor Legal) and others.  However, these comments are just a few, quick personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Alliance or individual Alliance members.

Highlights included connecting and marching with hosts working in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queen’s, such as Vamos Unidos, which organizes with street vendors in the city, and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), organizing with South Asian low-wage immigrant workers, youth, and families.  The workshops were also useful to compare different organizing tools, pressing issues and common problems like recruiter abuses and worker detentions, and strategies for resistance in and out of courtrooms from a variety of places (including the U.S., Mexico, Europe, Hong Kong, Philippines, India, Guatemala, etc.).  Generally, the PGA was trying to cement an emphasis on human rights and migrant worker protection missing from the official UN narrative about the costs and benefits of migration, including the assumption around migration as development.  An important principle from worker organizations that related to goals (if not always reality) in Canada was that the workers and communities affected should be the ones determining what happens (not just employers, corporations, or sending and receiving states).

Attending the IAMR, organized in part by MWAC member Migrante-Ontario, there was a further contrast from both the official UN High Level Dialogue and the PGA.  Although issues of development and human rights protections came up at the IAMR, much of the focus was on the root causes that alternately force or coerce migration, such as neoliberal globalization, trade, and economics (along with subsequent state dependencies on remittance flows).  As with the PGA, the IAMR included workshops speaking to the experiences of Indigenous peoples as migrants, which is an issue that hits home for Canada as a receiving country with mining operations displacing people abroad and continuing colonial relationships to Indigenous peoples at home.

This spectrum of mainstream diagnosis of international migration and development, with critical human rights responses and alternative economic visions, also emphasized the apparently two faces of Canadian migration policy.  For example, Canada’s official statement at the UN mentioned things like the regulation of recruitment, the importance of remittances, data-gathering and sharing, engaging with interested stakeholders, and getting the contribution of civil society voices.  Unfortunately, Canada’s actual behaviour at home shows a lack of pan-Canadian recruitment regulation, inadequate data-gathering and information-sharing with provinces and others, and pseudo- or non-consultation with migrant workers and civil society stakeholders.

Another disappointment was the segregation of non-state voices at the official UN Dialogue, both in terms of the significant civil society preparations in advance that barely registered in the official program, and the lack of migrant workers’ voices in this dialogue between member-states.  The official focus on the contested notion of commodifying migration as development did not address the root causes of much migration, related to trade, investment, and liberalization already associated with more ‘traditional’ forms of development.  This official narrative contrasts with something said by the Green Workers Cooperatives: ‘your work shouldn’t kill you, your community or the earth’.  In the rhetoric surrounding the HLD, and the lip service paid to the tragedy in Lampedusa and daily deaths of workers in Qatar and the US-Mexico border, it seemed rare that policy makers were able to keep all three of these things in mind at the same time.

Moving forward, it’s important to know about these developments, connect with others working on similar issues along the migration chain, and contextualize international developments alongside ongoing efforts at the bilateral, regional, federal, provincial, and municipal levels.

One example is MWAC’s new provincial campaign about necessary changes to provide migrant workers with strong voices, decent housing, equal wages, healthy jobs, and work without fees in Ontario.

Check out the campaign for more information, stay updated, and get involved to help make it right, because we’re all in this together: