Jewish Journal

Who sees the elephant? Civic Society Days on Migration and Human Development

Pavel Pustelnik, UK

December 14, 2011 | 3:35 am

Who sees the elephant?

The event you should have taken part in? Civic Society Days on Migration and Human Development organized in Geneva in December this year is one of those. It has shown that we have a problem that we do not want to talk about.

What Is It All About?
Migration is one of those issues that high rank officials seem to remain silent on and smoothly switch to climate change, hunger in Africa or humongous deficit in country A, B or C. Even the United Nations, who claims to deal with all the problems of the world is reluctant to fill its agenda with the problems of migrants. If they are irregular, the situation is even worse. Obviously, there has been the High Level Dialogue on Migration back in 2006, but since then not more has changed. However, the elephant IS in the room. One of the effect of that status quo can be observed by the increased role of the civic society organizations. They tend to grab the unwanted land playing more and more important role in identifying problems and playing a key role in agenda-setting. Civic Society Days once again were supposed to be the tool for the global policy makers to consult the public and see what the problems are. The problems that from behind the fence of the UN quarters in Geneva may look very different.

This year over 180 delegates representing organizations that are dealing with migration has been invited to take part in the consultations that played a role of a side event to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). The participants of the main event have been mostly government representatives and consultations were populated by practitioners. They ranged from academia, business, human rights organizations as well as religious associations or churches. This misleadingly wide array could have been significantly reduced because more than 500 applicants have been rejected.

You’ve got 15 minutes
The NGOs have been meeting to for three days to work on a Statement that was presented to the governmental forum. The final version was of 13 pages and the chosen representatives were given 15 minutes to present the main ideas of the document. – The meeting is not about this quarter of hour that you are given. It is mostly about the fact that we meet here and can network, we can see the problems we are facing and look for solutions – says Carol Barton, who was in the United Methodist Church’s delegation. Most of the participants had this impression. Obviously, the constant sensitizing is vital, but the outcomes cannot be taken for granted.

Off the UN
Events like GFMD tend to be associated with a rigid schedule of meetings, lobbying for specific points in the agenda and polished-glass-environment of the UN buildings. Features that cause allergy to some of the activists, who suffocate there. There was a special space for them: Peoples’ Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights – where the grass roots organizations could share extensively and truly network. Seeing the contacts being exchanged all the time, projects drafted on little pieces of paper and discussions till late night was much more inspiring than sipping juice and eating pastries at the UN. The criminalization of migrants or lack of regular channels for migration finally became tangible through people who suffered from maltreatments, whose passports have been taken by the employers or whose families have been split due to hostile immigration laws.

The grey-haired man are on one side of the barricade, the group of man and women, who come from all walks of life is on the other side. The facilitation to promote the rights and the whole advocacy task relies mostly on individuals who are tremendously caring about the issue. The answer that comes from the international bodies is weak. The UN Rapporteur who comes to the activists and the only thing he can offer is saying ‘I am just writing a report, that is my task, but irregular migration is not a crime’ is not enough to fulfill the expectations.

But why was this an event that you should have taken part in? Why haven’t I written about a concert or a festival? Perhaps it is idealistic way of thinking, but the elephant will be still there, looking at us, playing with his ears and perhaps event punching our shoulders with the trunk, but as long as the migration is remaining in a shadow and rights-based policy making is a far cry, there is apparently need to engage to empower the diaspora of migrants to stand up and claim at least regularization.

Overtures of the great music pieces are well-known. Almost everyone can recognize the one that starts The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro. Than, there are some pieces in the middle and it ends with a great ‘Finale’. It is similar with discussions on migration with high stake-holders. They see can easily say that the Filipinos and Filipinas are migrating, they know that there are people from North Africa trying to reach Europe or that perhaps there are some issues in Thailand. The ‘Finale’ happens when the hope for the better future drowns in the Mediterranean Sea or a huge trafficking is discovered. What is happening in between is just left apart and nobody feels responsible to tackle. The less public participation is seen in the debate over migration the less visible the problem is, and the less probable sensible labour migration policies are.

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