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A special report on Migrant Rights at the World Social Forum
Friday Jan 23rd, 2004 10:43 AM
A special report for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights direct from Mumbai, India
A special report on Migrant Rights at the World Social Forum -- Mumbai,Â
Date: 1/22/2004 8:21:37 AM China Standard Time
From: nnirr [at]

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.Â
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:

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