In the words of a Haitian proverb, “The mouth speaks what the eyes see.”
We NGOs are here to speak what the eyes of our members have seen when they have been international immigrants or have worked with them. We call on you, Honourable Chairperson and Excellencies of the Commission, to listen, as this simple Haitian proverb suggests, to our experiences and the recommendations we make based on them, as we suggest ways that “international migration” can be integrated into the priority theme of “improving public sector effectiveness.”
First of all, we acknowledge the need for a healthy macro-economic foundation so that people who would prefer to stay in their countries of origin have the economic options to remain there. Based on their experiences in developing countries, our networks have called
- for good governance,
- the elimination of agricultural subsidies that discriminate against agricultural products in developing countries,
- increased debt relief to be applied to social spending,
- meeting Official Development Assistance commitments, and
- tariff reductions,
all agreed to in the Monterrey Consensus and important for improving public
Secondly, we draw your attention to those women and children who are not always thought of as international migrants. Our members have seen women and girls kidnapped from Nepal to be exploited in the brothels of India, and women kidnapped off the streets of Albania to become sex slaves in the richer countries of the west. They tell us that it is very difficult to reintegrate these women and children into society even if they manage to break out of their slavery. They call on us to make every effort to prevent all forms of sexual exploitation through prostitution and trafficking in the first place.
We believe that an efficient public sector working toward the MDGs is essential for this, one which educates women and girls to be able to make an adequate living with dignity, and which strongly supports those cultural values that eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
We recommend a concerted effort throughout the world to educate all regarding the evils of trafficking. We particularly commend Brazil’s practice of including a flyer warning about the dangers of trafficking in all passports that are issued, and of putting similar posters in public transportation centers. We also commend groups in Nigeria who are taking posters developed in a simple and popular style to the rural areas to educate young women at risk of being taken in by recruiters.
We further recommend that those women who are trafficked when they try to escape from this trap be provided full protection under the law while those who perpetuate this form of sexual exploitation: the traffickers, the recruiters, the clients, be prosecuted and punished in significant ways.
We also draw your attention to the willing migrants, for whom effective services must also be provided. We have seen migrants from Indonesia exposed to the threat of forced labor or abusive working situations by government authorized but unscrupulous recruitment agencies. Lebanese migrants have told us of being forced to sign new labor contracts with longer hours and lower pay once they arrived in the host country, and of their documents being handed to their employers, which places them in a vulnerable position.
We encourage governments who have not already done so to
- ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families,
- introduce comprehensive national legislation to protect all migrant workers according to this convention, and to
- ratify the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.
We encourage civil authorities
- to educate the public on the contributions migrants make to the host communities but also on the abuses sometimes committed against them,
- to develop awareness raising and skills training programs for immigrant officials,
- to provide low fee or free replacement passports in cases where employers have withheld them from unwilling or enslaved workers as a means to control them,
- to effectively monitor labor recruitment agencies, and
to allow migrants to apply for a renewal of their contracts at consulates in the host country rather than forcing them to make an expensive trip to their home country for that purpose.
Undocumented migrants and those who have been trafficked for sexual purposes
are most vulnerable to exploitation and violence, which can lead to the sexual
transmission of HIV/AIDS. All migrants, whether willing or not, must have access
to basic health services, or the health of the rest of the society will also
Our networks stress that women are central in moving their families into adjustment in a new society. They are not to be forgotten! Women must be consulted as to the priority needs and involved in all decision-making processes for services to be truly effective. When programs for development are planned (e.g. education, trauma/violence rehabilitation, skills training, health care) girls and women must be included - gender neutral language is not sufficient!
Our networks remind us that stress in families is great during migration/moving situations. The balance in family relationships is upset when children must translate for adults, even regarding intimate health details. Women need to be re-empowered in their authority with every kind of capacity building possible. Too often the protection and empowerment strategies aimed at women and children are considered "non-core" activities even though women and children represent more than 75% of the refugee population.
In conclusion we urge you in your policy considerations related to international migration to hear…
- the voices of women who are trafficked, and act to raise awareness of this evil and its harms while providing education and economic alternatives to women which give them the possibility of living decent lives;
- the voices of willing migrants, whether documented or not, whose human rights must be promoted and protected, who need respect, decent working and living conditions, and effective education and health services;
- the voices of migrant women, who must be consulted as to the priority needs of their families and be involved in all decision-making processes for services to be truly effective.
It its background paper on “A Social Perspective on International Migration,
the Secretariat noted that “Besides a few non-governmental organizations,
[migrants] do not have ‘natural defenders’ of their interests and
they can rarely organize themselves to form their own unions and associations.”
But based on the Haitian proverb, “The mouth speaks what the eyes see,” we speak to you about the conditions of the international migrants that we serve, and urge you to create public sector services that effectively address their pressing needs.
Delivered by Florence Deacon
February 3, 2004