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A special report on Migrant Rights at the WSF-Mumbai,India

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    A special report on Migrant Rights at the World Social Forum -- Mumbai,  Date: 1/22/2004 8:21:37 AM China Standard Time From: nnirr@nnirr.org A special
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 22, 2004
      A special report on Migrant Rights at the World Social Forum -- Mumbai, 
      Date: 1/22/2004 8:21:37 AM China Standard Time
      From: nnirr@...

      A special report for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee
      Rights direct from Mumbai, India.

      Migrant Rights at the World Social Forum:
      “We Are One!” -- Strengthening the Global Movement

      By Colin Rajah

      Mumbai, INDIA. Tuesday, January 20, 2004: This year’s World Social Forum
      (WSF IV) goes into its final day before closing tomorrow and making its
      way back to Brazil. Hardly any mention on the front pages of large
      dailies, nor on CNN’s daily world roundup. And no doubt, back home in
      the U.S., it would’ve received even less coverage.

      Yet, that is inversely proportionate to the powerful and inspiring
      grassroots movements that are strengthening themselves through the WSF
      process, even as this is being written. And none, more so, than the
      grassroots migrants’ movements from just about every corner of the

      Telling Our Stories, Claiming Our Rights

      While support for travel to the Forum has been almost negligible for the
      migrant community, it has only been compounded with the need for state
      documentation to cross borders. Many migrants have been denied visas,
      travel documents, and some even turned away at the airport and at the
      border. Yet these obstacles have not hindered our resolve or our
      determination to push for our rights, especially within a global
      economic context.

      The Bangladeshi talked about being detained and “voluntarily” deported
      from Japan or else face criminal persecution. The South Koreans showed
      blown-up mug shots of migrants who have committed suicide out of
      desperation during that country’s crackdown on migrant workers. The
      Nepali domestic worker in Hong Kong described how she was abused by the
      family she worked for, and not provided any time off even when there was
      a death in her own family.

      And migrant communities from the U.S. have also been prominent:

      An increasingly militarized U.S.-Mexico border forcing dangerous
      crossings and record migrant deaths.

      o Forced evictions of New York City Chinatown immigrants who are afraid
      to seek legal protection for fear of arrest. 
      o The mass detentions and deportations of Arabs, Muslims and South
      Asians, even those whose status have been held up by the backlog of the
      Department of Homeland Security itself.
      o Cambodians who fled a murderous dictator and spent most of their lives
      in the U.S., now fear being deported through a secretive pact between
      the U.S. and Cambodian government.

      The eyes of the migrants in Asia widen as they hear their U.S.
      counterparts share their stories, and then they nod as they relate it to
      themselves, and some shed a tear or two. But that only lasts a few
      moments, as we have to prepare and plan our next collective action, the
      march and rally.

      “We Are One!” -- Strengthening the Global Movement

      Here at the WSF, it’s not really about getting to speak on the big
      panel. It’s not really about being shocked and overwhelmed at the
      widespread poverty encapsulated in numerous large “slums” all over the
      city. It’s not really about complaining of the thick envelope of dust
      that settles all over us everyday. It’s not even about pushing for the
      next piece of small legislation that might help our efforts.

      If that were all, we would have missed the largest opportunity we have.
      It’s really about sharing our stories of struggle and strategies for
      overcoming the obstacles to assert our dignity in the world and claim
      our rights. It’s about celebrating our cultures and diversity, while
      recognizing the hope within it all. It’s about building collective
      action, so that we know we’re never alone and that millions stand
      alongside us.

      The chant at the rally -- “We Are One!” -- said it all.

      We were fortunate that we weren’t building a global movement. We were
      actually strengthening the global movements that have continued to grow
      over many decades.

      Who came together in Mumbai? Migrant Rights International (MRI) with its
      members throughout the world, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) with over 20
      national members around the region, Asian Migrant Center (AMC), Welfare
      Association of Repatriated Bangladeshi Employees (WARBE), the Center for
      Education and Communication’s (CEC) Migrant Program, the South Koreans’
      campaign  to stop the crackdown on migrant workers, the Domestic Workers
      in Mumbai itself, all came together with the National Network and our
      own members DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) and CAAAV: Organizing
      Asian Communities. We also strengthened ongoing and new relationships
      with Andolan and the Domestic Workers Union from New York and Enlaces
      America from Chicago.

      We met every afternoon between hurrying back and forth from interesting
      workshops, to share our stories and plan our actions. We got together
      and claimed a booth to display our materials and as a central space to
      gather and rest. We conducted spontaneous street theatre in random
      places throughout the vast WSF site. We organized a mass march and rally
      in five languages. We held three workshops and actively participated in
      countless others, articulating the various issues migrant communities
      face, and how we respond to them.

      Yes, while the obstacles have been many, it hasn’t prevented those of us
      who made it here from telling our stories – of ourselves and our
      communities; from sharing our ideas and recognizing our rights and from
      continuing to grow our collective movement. This was another big step
      and we know we have lots more to do. But as we wipe away our sweat and
      rub the dust out of our eyes during the march, we smile at each other
      and celebrate another small victory, as those who have gathered around
      us, cheer us on.

      Will we make it to World Social Forum V? No doubt, the challenges will
      be there again and maybe more. We sigh at the thought of going through
      another round of immigration check-points on the way home, but we are
      inspired at the thought of building even more and taking it even

      Colin Rajah is the program consultant for the National Network for
      Immigrant and Refugee Rights' international project. Colin helped
      organize NNIRR's participation in the mobilizations against the WTO in
      Cancun and the FTAA in Miami. For more information, visit: www.nnirr.org

      National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR)
      310-8th St., Ste. 303
      Oakland, CA 94607
      510.465.1885 (fax)

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