migrants

 

  • ‘What is underway is the promotion of an unequal society’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme ofreimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Silvia Stilli, spokesperson of AOI, the largest civil society platform in Italy, and director of ARCS, a civil society organisation that promotes active citizenship and participatory democracy. Well known for her active commitment in the peace movements of the 1980s, she has 20 years of experience in volunteer work, humanitarian aid and international cooperation. Silvia is particularly active on issues related to migrants and refugees, and recently made astatement on behalf of AOI on the denial of entry to Italy for the migrant rescue boat Aquarius.

    1. Italy’s March 2018 general election led to the formation of a coalition government by two populist parties, the Five Star and the League. What are some of the reasons behind this?

    The reasons for the current situation do not lie just in the last year, but in the last 10 years. Over the past 10 years, relations between political parties and civil society - which in Italy is very broad - have been getting looser and looser, so the opportunities for engagement have declined. There has been a distancing between political parties and civil society.

    During this time, civil society in Italy has become increasingly engaged on social issues, especially since the 2008 global economic crisis, and it has done so by acknowledging the strong interdependence between global challenges and domestic challenges, including in poverty and migration flows. There has been a convergence of the different parts of civil society, including movements that are mobilising to demand rights. Civil society has been mobilising to try to connect global, regional and national issues. Migration is not a standalone issue. It’s something that affects us domestically, but because of our geographic location in the Mediterranean region.

    While civil society has taken a joined-up approach, political parties, including progressive parties, were treating poverty and the economic crisis as purely economic issues requiring domestic responses. Citizens found themselves caught between these two completely different views of how to deal with the situation.

    Another element is the huge mobilisation that has happened around the Five Star movement, which brought together many people around the need for change. This was an entirely new movement that attracted a lot of interest and support. People mobilised without necessarily looking at the depth of their political views, their orientation and programmes. Let’s see if they will actually bring some change.

    2. How are these current changes in politics being experienced by civil society?

    As well as concerns about migration, Italian citizens have experienced concern about security - both personal security, because there have been terrorist attacks, and livelihood security, given the difficulty of finding jobs. These sort of uncertainties and perceptions of insecurity have created the idea among some citizens that the work traditionally pursued by civil society organisations (CSOs), even if done with the best of intentions, is not taking into account their fears and insecurities. This anxiety has somewhat detached citizens from groups working on social issues.

    Over the last two years, donations from citizens, be it voluntary contributions or allocations from tax deductions, have been decreasing. This was an alarming issue even before the election. However, overall, there has been no decline in citizen engagement, as seen for example in volunteering. This has been stable or even slightly increased, particularly among young people, who if anything are more inclined to engage through civil society than join a political party.

    But at the same time that citizens are giving less - including to the many groups that are active in providing support and services in Italy to communities and vulnerable groups, some of which have had services outsourced to them by municipalities, including those run by the League - there are more demands on civil society. So we see on the one hand some financial decline, and on the other hand increasing need.

    Civil society’s role is under discussion. The new message seems to be that civil society can only operate to implement policies established by the government. This is opening up a crisis because it was not the case until now.

    3. How have politicians and political parties cultivated support, and what have been the impacts on rights?

    The current confusion of citizens has happened because of the language that has been used, not just by the current government but by previous governments of both right and left. They started to use language revolving around security against migrants, border control and safety. They attack CSOs working on these issues, seeking to detach citizens from the so-called ‘do-gooders’ of civil society. The fact that the centre-left also spoke this language has confused many citizens, including the more progressive part of the citizenry who might naturally embrace tolerance and sensitivity towards social issues. The consequence is that some citizens have become disconnected from traditional values of democracy.

    What is underway, to some extent continuing some measures of the previous government, is the promotion of an unequal society. They are talking about reduced rights and privileges for whoever is different, especially foreigners and migrants, and not only those coming now by sea, but also those who are already in Italy.

    More broadly, a number of rights that have been expanded in recent years - on same-sex civil unions, abortion, living wills, access to services for a number of minority groups - are all now being undermined. Every day new ministers of this government are making declarations that undermine these and the victories civil society helped achieve in the past. The language used by the government and mainstream parties is more and more attacking minority groups, and the civil society that works with them.

    Recently a Five Star member of parliament posted a Facebook message saying that CSOs that are mobilising for migrants need to be got rid of, in effect calling for a ‘fumigation’ of Italian civil society. This is the kind of language that parts of the new government are using against civil society.

    There is also the ‘Soros effect’ in Italy. The Minister of Internal Affairs now wants to check the budgets of CSOs to see if they are getting money from George Soros and Open Society Foundations. The same minister wants to create a racial profiling of the Roma community, who in most cases are citizens of Italy and not foreigners. This profiling on the basis of race is something that previously wouldn't have been possible in Italy.

    Within this new coalition government, the party that most extremely speaks the language of security is the League, from which the minister of interior affairs comes. It joined the new government as the minority partner, but the latest polls show that its leader, who is being assertive about security, is gaining support.

    These changes have opened up a big crisis of cultural values and challenges, both for the Catholic and secular parts of civil society, which have both played a key role in promoting equality and access to rights. This new approach is disorientating a broad part of established civil society.

    4. How is civil society responding, both to demonstrate its value, and to help those being targeted politically?

    On 24 July 2018, several parts of civil society in Italy collectively organised an ‘email bombing’, all sending an email to the coastal guard. This initiative was joined by millions of citizens. This was a huge mobilisation to request that the coastal guard disregard instructions to devolve the management of migrants to the Libyan coastal guard. This was the first time since the election that we witnessed such a massive mobilisation.

    After a very difficult period when civil society groups in Italy have faced defamation, smear campaigns and accusations, not only from political parties but also from citizens, this event was positive and shows negative trends being challenged, with citizens offering a massive mobilisation in support.

    Italian civil society is almost unanimously aligned on one point: that basic and fundamental human rights cannot be denied, and so they do not support the closure of ports and the blocking of ships and their return to Libya. In the case of the Aquarius, the response has mostly been to point to international treaties and norms, and to call for opening ports in the name of safe ports. Libyan ports clearly don't meet the definition of safe ports.

    Civil society is asking that humanitarian organisations can continue to work with the coastal guard and others involved at sea, as was the case in the past. There have been a number of judicial decisions that back the actions of civil society rescue ships. When rescue ships have been blocked, judges have determined that the ships have been in compliance with international norms, especially the Law of the Sea, and that this definitely overrides the state’s ability to block them.

    Civil society is trying to mobilise different actors within Italy - not only civil society groups, but also local authorities and parts of government, such as those that deal with health and education, and is calling for a more integrated and strategic approach, at least at the national level, looking into rescue at sea and also best practices in integrating communities. It is also calling for changes in foreign policy and development cooperation policy, to look at the complexities and dynamics of countries and regions that migrants come from, and how best to stabilise these and prevent people from needing to migrate: to take a more joined-up approach, at least at the Italian level, but this should also be the approach at the European level.

    Civil society points to the need for a strategic policy at the European level on this issue. On this, if not on the issue of the closure of ports, there is an alignment of civil society and government views.

    5. What else could Italian civil society do to respond, and what are its support needs?

    Although Italian civil society is now well connected and belongs to European and international networks, it has probably started late in engaging meaningfully in those networks. At the beginning, it was often enough to belong, but not be really actively engaged. We then realised the importance of using these channels to engage, such as to bring to wider attention what is happening with migration in Italy that some other parts of Europe might not be experiencing as we are: to raise awareness of the real challenges and struggles. It is crucial for Italian civil society to open up further to regional and international networks. Within key European civil society networks there is recognition of the need to bring forward a new narrative on migration and the integration of migrants in Europe, which could point to the positives of these, and not only the economic argument, but also the benefits of social and cultural growth for Europe. There is a need to invest in this as a medium and long-term political strategy. This is one of the most crucial things that Italian civil society should be doing together with broader European networks to change views of fear about insecurity and instability.

    The second thing we need to do is work with new generations, including in schools and informal spaces, to find channels to engage them in ways that interest them, and invest in their understanding of today’s dynamics so they can be the drivers of change in future. We need to promote more volunteering abroad and the hosting of volunteers in Italy, and exchanges among students and young people who have come from areas of crisis.

    Third, we need to work more with parliament, since there has been a major turnover of those who sit in parliament. There are new people who may not be much aware of the issues and so endorse populist narratives. We need to talk with them and influence them.

    Fourth, we need to work more strategically with the media, to push for a better narrative and try to work through the media to shape opinion.

    Finally, it’s important to highlight critical issues about civil society as well as positive ones. The fact that the credibility of civil society has been undermined, creating a decrease in donations and contributions, has prompted civil society to work more on our self-evaluation tools, to be critical, honest, self-assess how we have been doing things, and move towards more transparency and giving more feedback to citizens, including through participatory budgets and more transparent reports. Not only is it necessary for citizens to know where their money goes, but it is also the right way to respond to attacks.

    Civic space in Italy is rated as ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch withAOI andARCS through their websites or follow@AOIcooperazione and@ArcsCultSol on Twitter.

     

  • Freedom of association for migrants --- joint statement at Human Rights Council

    Joint tatement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants


    Madame President; Special Rapporteur,

    This is a statement on behalf of CIVICUS, Solidarity Center, and the International Service for Human Rights.

    We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report. For the marginalised in society, including migrant workers, the freedom to act collectively offers protection against discrimination, exploitation and poverty. When the right to association is open to migrant workers and refugees, they can organize to uphold their interests in their workplaces and communities, influence public opinion and hold public officials accountable.

    We share your concern that hostility towards migrants and those who defend their rights has given rise to restrictive laws and practices that undermine the human rights, safety and dignity of migrants.

    A report released by CIVICUS and Solidarity Centre last October revealed serious challenges for migrant workers in exercising their freedom of association, including the threat of deportation for speaking out.

    Migrant workers in Malaysia reported that intimidation and pressure from their employers often prevents them from organizing, and that they can be coerced by agents or their employers not to join unions. In some cases, their working contracts deny their participation. Two-thirds of migrant workers surveyed in Kenya say harassment or pressure from employers is a major barrier to exercising freedom of association.

    COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the importance of freedom of association rights for migrant workers and refugees. They must have the right to speak out and organize collectively to ensure health and safety at work, especially as they are disproportionately represented in “essential sectors” such food processing, agriculture and health services in many countries.

    Defenders of migrants’ and refugee rights play a crucial role in supporting migrants, elevating their voices and providing humanitarian assistance. We are seriously alarmed at the harassment of individuals and civil society organizations supporting migrants, including migrant workers, in the EU and the US; including criminalization of their activities; and barriers to registration and funding. Such attacks can be a matter of life or death for those whose rights and freedoms they defend. 

    We call on all States to heed the recommendations of the report to recognize and protect migrants’ right to freedom of association, to stop the misuse of smuggling and trafficking laws to target migrant rights defenders and to create an enabling environment for civil society organizations, including those working on migration and migrants’ rights issues.

     

  • Malaysia: Migrants and refugees excluded from poverty figures and neglected by policymakers

    Statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty


    Thank you, Madame President; Special Rapporteur.

    CIVICUS and North South Initiative welcome the strong report of the Special Rapporteur on his country visit to Malaysia, which highlights the plight of millions of people including migrants, refugees and stateless people who are systematically excluded from official poverty figures and neglected by policymakers.

    We share his concern that migrant workers in Malaysia are set up for exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, a harsh immigration policy and a lack of enforcement of labour protections. Refugees and asylum seekers exist in extremely precarious conditions unable to work or enroll in government schools. Civil society groups have been calling for a single entity to manage migrant workers to ensure better protection of their rights and reduce the risks of them becoming victims of corruption. 

    CIVICUS research has shown has that migrants and refugees in Malaysia want to participate in the societies they call home. But they continue to face barriers and restrictions in exercising their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, all but ensuring ongoing perilous and precarious conditions.

    Migrant workers and refugees say that among the challenges they face in speaking out include, a lack of access to information, fear of being fired, detained or deported and harassment or intimidation. The right to assemble in the 2012 Peaceful Assembly Act does not extend to foreigners including migrant workers and refugees – in contravention of international human rights law and standards. Refugee and migrant workers also face various restrictions in exercising their freedom of association.

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year there has been a crackdown on migrant workers. The UN has noted increased xenophobia and hate speech against them by individuals affiliated with the government and human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants. 

    We call on the government of Malaysia to immediately take steps to implement the recommendation of the special rapporteur for a comprehensive new approach to migrant and refugee policies that provides them protection, guarantees their civic freedoms and enables a route out of poverty and precarity. We also urge the government to make public the final report and recommendations by the Special Committee on Foreign Worker Management setup by the government.

     

  • MIGRATION: ‘The way our countries are treating refugees –this isn't the Europe we want’

    SeaWatchCIVICUS speaks to Giorgia Linardi, spokesperson for Sea-Watch in Italy, and Julian Pahlke, chairperson of Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescues’) and former crew member of the Iuventa ship. Sea-Watch and Jugend Rettet both conduct civil search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Central Mediterranean, a route by which migrants and refugees seek to enter Europe. In the face of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, they provide emergency relief, push for rescue operations by European institutions and stand up for legal escape routes and the removal of the root causes of migration and flight.

    Photo: Sea-Watch.org

    When did you decide to organise to help migrants and refugees, and why?

    Julian Pahlke (JP): Jugend Rettet was founded in early 2016 by a couple of young people in Berlin. As young Europeans, we couldn’t let Europe become a mass grave. Ours is such a rich continent. Why would we leave less fortunate people to drown at sea? We might be geographically disconnected from the Mediterranean, but as Europeans we cannot be disconnected from the issue, because if you look at the way our countries are treating migrants and refugees, this is not the Europe we want.

     

  • States falling short on protecting migrants' rights defenders

    Joint statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- delivered by International Service for Human Rights

    General debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development


    As the High Commissioner recognised in her opening remarks to this session, States have a responsibility to ensure that migrants' lives are protected and their human rights upheld; she made clear that the dire precarity of migrants in camps on Lesvos, and the risks to life of migrants facing collective pushback and expulsions, underscored ‘the need for solidarity and shared responsibility among EU Member States’. 

    Her statement follows on the heels of timely and incisive reporting by the Special Procedures – including of course the report of the SR on Migrants to HRC44, but also those by mandates addressing human rights defenders, freedom of association and assembly, and international solidarity. 

    For the human rights of migrants to be fully protected, the right of individuals and organisations to defend migrants’ rights – whether through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid, policy advocacy, or civil disobedience – must also be fully protected. This should no longer be up for discussion. 

    And yet, the concerns – and calls to action – have fallen on deaf ears. 

    In Europe, the work of think tanks and NGOs such as the ReSOMA project has led to the documentation of at least 171 individuals in 60 cases of criminalisation of migrant rights defenders over the period 2014-2019. The ‘crimes’ of which they stand accused are based on simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; or lending a cell phone. 

    While rarely involving sentencing, the cases show a worrying trend of abuse of short-term detentions (with police often failing to substantiate charges) or, where charges are brought, lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings that put peoples’ lives on hold and their livelihoods at risk. This has a deeper chilling effect on defenders who are themselves migrants, and whose work may put their residence permits, homes and jobs in jeopardy. 

    The EU and many Member States at this Council can and do speak out in support of human rights defenders, which is an important contribution, but we must be clear: these practices can and often do constitute judicial harassment. This is not something that happens only ‘abroad’, nor a practice that can be excused if it happens within your borders. 

    ISHR and the co-signatories to this statement have grown increasingly concerned about the reluctance of this Council to contribute meaningfully to advancing the protection of the human rights of migrants in multilateral, regional and national spaces. We urge all governments to fully apply the OHCHR Guidelines on Migrants in Vulnerable Situations, including by providing a safe and enabling environment for all migrant rights’ defenders. 

    And we urge members and observers of the Human Rights Council to model a rights-based approach for other intergovernmental bodies, by bringing the voices of migrants and their supporters to speak to the serious, often life-altering impacts to which their border policies give rise. 

     

  • The Coming Wave of Climate Displacement

    By Kumi Naidoo

    Not since 1951 has the international community produced a treaty to protect the legal status of the world's refugees. Now, two agreements are currently under discussion at the United Nations, and each offers a rare opportunity to protect global migrants from the biggest source of displacement today.

    Read on: Project Syndicate 

     

  • The two borderless challenges of our time: Migration and climate change

    Civil society response to the Zero Draft of the UN´s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration 

    There are over a quarter billion migrants and refugees in the world. Over 5,000 died last year on their dangerous journeys. The United Nations has been moved to act. 

    Governments are currently negotiating a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The agreement is meant to protect the rights of those displaced and help address the root economic, environmental and social drivers that are compelling people to leave their communities and countries. 

    Last week, the UN released its draft agreement and will have until December to negotiate the final details. A key area where the document falls short is on commitments to tackle the primary causes of migration. A stated aim of the Global Compact is to “mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin”. However, the current text lacks actionable commitments to control the numerous man-made forces underlying global mass migration. 

    The reasons are different for every migrant and diaspora, but we know that natural disasters are the number one cause of internal and international displacement. With rising sea levels, desertification and extreme weather events, climate action must be a part of any meaningful agreement. 

    "Climate induced displacement is upon us. Coastal communities are being evacuated and relocated the world over.” Said Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non Governmental Organisations. “Here in sea locked countries of the Pacific Ocean, disappearance of our island homes is imminent". 

    To protect the growing number of climate migrants, a necessary starting place for the compact is to  reaffirm the importance of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, instead of the more conservative and ambiguous target to keep the world “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Missing just one of these targets will lead to millions of people being displaced.  The United Nations´ climate science panel (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) gauges that the half a degree gap in warming “amounts to a greater likelihood of drought, flooding, resource depletion, conflict and forced migration”. Climate models show us that the additional 0.5°C would  further raise sea levels by 10 centimeters and cut crop yields by half across the tropics.

    From Fiji to Trinidad and Tobago, from Bangladesh to Morocco, civil society groups are calling on their governments to make climate mitigation a fundamental pillar of the Global Compact on Migration. Over 400 civil society groups at International Civil Society Week (Fiji, December) signed a joint declaration on climate induced displacement,  outlining key demands for the Global Compact. Among other recommendations, we are urging the UN to address the causes and consequences of migration, including:

    • Recognize that communities must have key human rights like food, water, housing and health protected to reduce the necessity of migration.
    • Commit to protect those who are most vulnerable to climate displacement.
    • Ensure that those most vulnerable to climate displacement are able to participate in the design and governance of the Global Compact. 

    The upcoming multi-stakeholder consultations on 21 February and 21 May at UN Headquarters will provide civil society with the opportunity to raise the ambition of the Global Compact and to help ensure meaningful action is taken to reduce the man-made causes of migration and incorporate key recommendations put forth in the joint civil society declaration.  

     

  • TURKEY: ‘Civilian refugees should not be used as political bargaining chips’

    Bassam AlahmadCIVICUS speaks with Bassam Alahmad, co-founder and executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), about the Turkish plan to return one million refugees to Syria.

    STJ is a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to documenting human rights violations to contribute to the prospects for justice, as well as training human rights activists and building capacity in areas including digital security and civic engagement.

    Why is the Turkish government making plans to return a million Syrian refugees to Syria?

    We do not know the exact reason behind the plan to return a million Syrians to Turkish-administered regions of Syria. But there are several possible reasons we can think of. First, Turkey will hold general elections next year, and every time elections approach, the ruling Justice and Development Party will try to draw attention outside Turkey in any way possible – by attacking other nations, creating problems with neighbouring countries or groups of people – to hide domestic failures.

    Second, the decision may be part of a wider strategy by the Turkish government concerning its engagement with northeast and northwest Syria, which aims to decrease the presence of Kurds and other populations who it doesn’t view as ‘Turkey’s allies’ – people that Turkey does not like having at its borders. To achieve this, Turkey will make claims that these populations are ‘terrorists’.

    The decision announced to return a million Syrians from Turkey back to Syria therefore hits two birds with one stone. It would allow the Turkish government to show its domestic opposition that it is tackling the ‘problem’ while also using Syrians against Syrians in the northeast and northwest parts of Syria.

    To sum up, there is no specific reason we know of, but we can assume that demographic engineering in northeast and northwest Syria and Turkey’s domestic politics are all at play.

    How has this announcement impacted on Syrian refugees in Turkey?

    This policy has really affected Syrian refugees in Turkey. Every single day there is at least one case of assault against a Syrian person – sometimes more. Incidents of racism and cases of deportation and violence at the border, and even of murder, have been verified. Hundreds of organisations and media outlets have verified racist attacks against Syrians.

    Why are these attacks happening? Because the Turkish government is telling people that it has already spent too much on Syrians, and Turkish citizens are resenting it. The Turkish government is also telling people that it has freed areas in Syria from terrorists and they are now safe for return, so Turkish citizens are increasingly putting pressure on Syrian refugees to leave. Turkish public opinion turning against Syrians makes them vulnerable to racism and deportation.

    The discourse that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is disseminating is affecting Syrian refugees very negatively. And the problem is that it is not true. The United Nations, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Amnesty International and many others have all said that Syria is not safe.

    How do you assess Turkey’s immigration policy?

    Many countries and organisations say that Turkey should be thanked for its treatment of Syrian refugees; however, Turkey’s 2016 agreement with the European Union was a really bad one, because as a result Syrian refugees were trapped or detained in Turkey so that the Turkish government could receive money for hosting them.

    Syrian refugees and asylum seekers have been used as political game pieces ever since. Following this agreement, in which Europeans agreed to pay money to Turkey to keep Syrians from advancing through Greece and further into Europe, there have been multiple instances of disagreements between Europe and Turkey leading to threats against refugees.

    This is not good. You can’t keep using civilian refugees as political bargaining chips, using them against Turkey, or against the Kurds in northeast and northwest Syria, or against the Americans in northeast Syria. But the 2016 agreement gave the Turkey government leverage to use refugees as a political card, and they have used it. And by the way, Turkey is not the only country using refugees this way, and Syrian refugees are not the only refugees who have been used. Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees have had similar experiences, but this is especially true for Syrian refugees.

    Do you think the attitude of the Turkish government points to a broader European pattern?

    Of course, the Turkish refugee policy has a lot in common with refugee policies around the world. I do not want to say that all European governments treat refugees the same way as the Turkish government, but occasionally there are similarities.

    In particular, we all saw how European governments treated Ukrainian refugees – this was good. But they don’t treat Syrian refugees the same way. European countries gave Turkey money to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey, while they opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees.

    We do not want to paint all the Turkish and European politicians and policies with the same brush, but there are patterns of racist refugee policies and racist attacks against refugees that are important to recognise.

    How has Syrian civil society responded to the announcement by the Turkish government?

    Unfortunately, the civil society response has not been unified. Many Syrian CSOs that do not have employees or offices in Turkey have published reports about this plan; however, Syrian CSOs in Turkey have not been able to speak out, for a number of reasons. In some cases, organisations are politically aligned with Turkey and welcome these policies. But many others want to speak out against these policies – the racism, the deportations, the military actions against Syrians within Syria – but they are unable to for security reasons.

    In other words, some people don’t want to speak up because they are essentially in agreement with Turkish policies, while others would want to but cannot because it is dangerous, as they are in Turkey, where speaking out may result in deportation or arrest. There are also some Turkish organisations that address these issues, but many do not have the interests of Syrian refugees in mind.

    It is key for Turkish organisations to speak out and insist that Syria is not safe for refugees to return. There has been limited discussion about Turkey’s rights violations against Syrians, and this should not be the case. Both domestic and international civil society should speak out against violations occurring in Turkey and committed by Turkey.

    Civic space in Turkey is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Syrians for Truth and Justice through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@STJ_SYRIA_ENG and@BassamAlahmed on Twitter.

     

  • Worker’s rights activism and human rights activism must be linked

    Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, the largest worker rights organisation based in the United States speaks to CIVICUS about challenges facing workers, Solidarity Center’s work and the response of professional NGOs to worker’s rights. Follow her on @Shawna_SolCntr

    1. What do you see as the biggest challenges for workers in 2017? What are the key drivers behind these challenges?

    Workers around the world are confronting serious challenges to whether they can exercise their rights and work with dignity. Among them are labour markets and systems that generate, rather than alleviate, poverty; and governments that fail to protect workers, either through omission or deliberate act. In addition, weak legal environments—national and international—tend to reward exploitative supply chains, permit human trafficking, allow discrimination to flourish and generally disenfranchise workers. Lastly, the toxic spread of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and fear marginalizes millions of migrant workers and refugees—further disenfranchising people whose jobs do not lift them from poverty, afford them safe workplaces or uphold their dignity.

    I see four key drivers behind these challenges. One is downward pressure on wages along global supply chains combined with greater barriers to workers exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association—to organize and promote their issues, protect their wages from eroding and exercise their rights. Another driver is the increasing informalization of work and the gig economy, which limits wages, workplace protections and workers' ability to improve either, as well as strips workers of the benefits that come with full-time jobs. A third is the fact that governments around the world—to attract investment—are taking deliberate actions to weaken worker rights or simply not enforcing laws designed to protect workers. The last would be widening inequality coupled with resurgent authoritarianism, closing space for people to have a voice on the job and in their community, and curtailing worker and human rights.

    2. How is the Solidarity Center and its network responding to these challenges?

    The Solidarity Center stands with workers as they defend their right to freedom of association, supporting them as they organize, advocate and build worker voice. Our work is explicitly pro-equality, anti-racist, pro-migrant, class conscious and inclusive. We support freedom of association as a foundation of democracy and ensure the centrality of worker self-organizing and leadership across our efforts. In addition, we see justice and rule of law as an alternative to exploitation and arbitrariness—a leveler of inequality of power and wealth—and are putting greater emphasis on developing legal capacity among our partners and supporting innovative legal processes at the national, regional and international levels.

    With our partners, we are building a grassroots movement for work with dignity and respect for workers’ human rights. We work with 400-plus labour unions, pro-worker nongovernmental organizations, legal-aid groups, human rights defenders, women’s associations, advocacy coalitions and others to support workers—in garment factories, home service, seafood processing, mining, agriculture, informal marketplaces, manufacturing, the public sector and beyond—as they exercise their rights, including organizing for safer work sites, demanding living wages and improving laws (and the enforcement of existing laws) that protect working people, and fighting exploitation and abuse. We are, quite deliberately, building broad alliances with other organizations fighting the forces of repression and all forms of discrimination and violence against people, communities and the environment.

    Specifically, we provide training and technical expertise that can help workers take on societal ills such as child labour, human trafficking, unfair labour laws, infringement of women’s rights, dangerous workplaces and the exploitation of the vulnerable. We focus on supporting women as they challenge the systems and organizations that deny them voice. We also work to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and refugees of any category are respected, and help connect them to protective networks. In addition, we implement legal-assistance programs, including the training of paralegals, to help workers recover stolen wages or benefits illegally denied them, and we push to broaden legal norms, protections and cultural space for the freedom of association necessary to sustain a vibrant civil society

    3. What are your thoughts on global protections for the rights to protest and strike?

    The right to strike goes part and parcel with the rights to freedom of association and assembly. It also is established international law, supported by ILO core conventions and international human rights conventions, and specifically covered in the constitutions of at least 90 countries.

    The right to strike is a collective mechanism through which workers speak truth to power, whether to rectify poor wages and working conditions at a factory, or to push back against government policies that perpetuate poverty, discrimination or persecution. In many cases, going on strike is one of the only ways workers can hold ruling or corporate elites accountable, protest injustice and serve as a check the concentration of power. It is a civil liberty that we all should strive to protect.


    4. Are you satisfied with the response of professional NGOs (working on development and human rights matters) on workers’ rights issues? If not what could be done to improve the situation?

    No. For a long time, worker rights and human rights have been seen as different issues, by both human rights NGOs and the global labour movement. Because of that, we are all far less effective in confronting the current global human rights crisis perpetuated by the resurgence of authoritarianism, the crackdown on the public sphere and the greatest expansion of multinational and investor rights in modern human history. These three trends have created a perfect storm for workers and citizens, greatly impeding their ability to stand up for their rights, improve their lives and livelihoods, and expand democracy.

    An increasing number of human rights advocacy groups have begun to take on worker issues, looking to improve corporate respect for rights. Very often, however, NGOs fail to involve workers, the major stakeholder, in the process or leave worker rights, including freedom of association, off the table while focusing on a company’s “social responsibility.” At the same time, they fail to involve unions or labour advocates, who have 30 years of experience with corporate social responsibility efforts—including many mistakes—in campaigns. They could easily avoid some of the pitfalls the labour movement has already encountered.

    Worker are up against powerful forces. And while they are the first line of defense against workplace exploitation, it will take a global network of worker rights defenders—NGOs, human right activists, trade unions—to oppose the stifling of civil society, staunch the erosion of workplace rights and protect human dignity and freedom.

    5. Are there any particular mobilisation strategies that you are focusing on in light of current political trends when human rights and social justice concerns appear to be taking a back seat?

    The Solidarity Center has joined with labour unions and women's rights activists to push for an end to gender-based violence at work. In addition, we are supporting safe migration policies and building networks to support migrant workers and refugees. We also are seeking out new ways to help informal-economy workers access and exercise their rights. And, of course, we will not rest until freedom of association for all workers is a given. That is our core challenge in this era of closing space for civil society.

    6. What advice would you give to the CIVICUS alliance?

    Worker rights activism and human rights activism must be linked if we are to push back the forces that drive inequality, poverty and injustice. There is no time like the present to begin.

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