Do not leave the migrants behind!

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Eni Lestari, Chair of International Migrants Alliance (R)
and Shobha Shukla, CNS Managing Editor (L)
[Watch video interview] [Listen or download the podcast] There are an estimated 232 million international migrants (UN DESA, 2013) and740 million internal migrants (UNDP, 2009) in the world. They form a significant part of the world's working class and it is difficult to imagine any country that can stand alone in this global world, without the contribution of migrants. Even though countries' economies have benefited from them, yet they are not recognised as a legitimate workforce by governments and are taken as a threat to their economic stability.

Eni Lestari, Chairperson of International Migrants Alliance was in conversation with CNS (Citizen News Service) at the "Breaking Ground, Taking Roots: Istanbul Principles @7" meeting organized by CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) and partners in Bangkok, Thailand. She spoke about why it is crucial to heed the voices of migrants, immigrants, refugees and displaced people, while framing and implementing policies for achieving Agenda 2030.

Lestari represents the migrants’ constituency - the newest constituency that was accepted within the CPDE (CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness) network last year in Nairobi. She gives credit to the Istanbul Principles (IPs) for being instrumental in establishing this constituency. These principles have become an instrument for CSOs to not only assert for more space within the government and private sector, but also form a pathway to step forward and give voice to the voiceless.

CSOs had, at times, been elitist, in the past, rues Lestari, with people like migrants being mere audiences in development discourses. She says that migrant groups have had almost no say in development talks as they are marginalised within and outside their countries, and hold the unenviable status of displaced persons. Governments do not pay much attention to them and treat them as nobodies. But as a result of their acceptance by the CPDE, they too are now recognised as an entity who could speak for themselves, so that there is no need for others to represent them in the global arena.This has opened the doors for them to say what they need to say. As a new constituency, the migrants, immigrants, and refugee groups are now being mobilised into a more solid voice around the development talks. This, feels Lestari, is a big step forward, that IPs have brought about.
Eni Lestari, Chairperson of
International Migrants Alliance

Lestari concedes that the challenge now is to expand their presence in the face of currently shrinking civic spaces. Most governments prefer to talk to either private institutions, or technical experts of the issues, and to international NGOs in case of migrants. But they do not talk to the refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants or deported migrants. And this reflects in government policies. What type of policies will governments create if they do not talk with the people who are affected by those policies, and share their experiential knowledge? The issue of migrants is a very fragile and sensitive issue. Governments view them as a weak and conflicted constituency and virtually deny their presence. She is happy that CPDE has given them a channel to be able to reach the governments. But the most difficult part perhaps is for governments to listen to them - they might talk with them but not listen, fears Lestari.

It is only through active participation of people from different sectors of society in different countries, that sustainable development can take place. But to hear the real voices, one has to involve the grassroots people. And that is not easy. In the context of migrants’ constituency, uniting the migrants is a big issue, due to a variety of reasons - many of them face hard immigration rules/ policies; their strict employment conditions do not technically allow them to go out for meetings; it is difficult for them to attend conferences and meetings and be heard at international forums, what with visa bans and travel restrictions imposed upon them, worries Lestari.

Another issue is the sustainability of migrants’ organisations, as the members are mostly mobile. Many countries do not accept permanent migration anymore, so people are staying as migrants for short time periods. Even refugees who used to settle down in foreign lands are now facing massive deportation everywhere. This practically shakes their own foundations as an institution. And that is going to be a challenge to include their voices, if they are mobile.

Lestari fears that despite governments endorsing Agenda 2030, the world is not going to be the place we want it to be, because crises are not getting better anywhere. Private sector involvement is increasing, people are being displaced in large numbers to satisfy the greediness of a few, and there are more conflicts than before. So CSOs will have to rethink, re-evaluate and listen more to each other and to the people.

However, Lestari is determined to find a way out of these hard ground realities: "We have to remain united and be present there so as not to lose our space. We have to really work hard in terms of reaching out to people, talking to them, gathering their issues and putting them together, and then presenting them to governments. We are trying to train more people in our constituency, to better their leadership capacities so that they are the voices for those who cannot speak out. We have to prove our worth. and we have to organise them so that they can assert their rights."

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service) 
14 April 2017