More than 100 delegates and guests representing 45 organizations of migrants, refugees and advocates from 20 countries, participated in the successful holding of the second International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) held November 1-4, 2009, in Athens, Greece. The assembly, held at the Athens University of Economics and Business, and the Polytechnic University of Athens, was held as a counter-assembly to the government-led Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) that also convened in Athens November 5, 2009.
Following the success of the first IAMR held in Manila in 2008, the second IAMR attracted participants from all global regions, North and South America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Delegates came from as far as Senegal in Africa, Bangladesh in the Asia-Pacific, to Israel in the Middle East.
In a unique ceremony on the opening of the second IAMR on Nov. 1, delegates and guests were treated to a display of different banners, and a chorus of slogans translated into several languages. Delegates themselves participated in the ceremony by rhythmically banging sticks on the tables and walls and shouting slogans, to create noise, an artfully created metaphor - for migrants and refugees wanting to heard, and speaking for themselves.
The Second IAMR was convened by the International Migrants' Alliance (IMA), Migrante International, Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrants, IBON International, Union of Working People of Greece and Migrante Europe, and was firmly supported by the Network of Migrants and Refugees Social Support.
The meaningful and productive discussions, exchanges, workshops, resolutions, side events and mobilizations during the second IAMR faithfully revolved around and upheld its theme: “Uphold and Defend the Rights of Migrants and Refugees Against Exploitation, War and Discriminatory Laws, Amidst the Global Economic Crisis. Oppose 'Fortress Europe' Policies and the EU Return Directive!”
Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, chair of the International League of People's Struggle (ILPS), a global anti-imperialist alliance that supported the IAMR, in his inspirational message to the assembly, fittingly urged the delegates, to expose migration as the result and furtherance of super-exploitation and underdevelopment in impoverished countries and to oppose the prettification of migration as an instrument of development under the auspices of the US-dictated policy of “neoliberal globalization.
Eni Lestari, an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong, and chair of the IMA, in her keynote speech stressed the need for migrants and refugees to speak and act for themselves. She said the unity that was forged with the founding of the IMA was a historical decisive move of migrants and refugees all over the world that needs to be replicated in areas where the IMA member organizations work and do organizing. She called on the need to establish alliances on the country level, to do more coordinative supportive actions to ensure victories in campaigns, to unite and fight against the enforcement of the EU Return Directive, to forge strong unity and solidarity with the local workers and progressive peoples’ organizations to strengthen the unity of the working people, and to continuously expose and oppose GFMD and all other designs by imperialism.
The succeeding three plenary inputs deepened further the insights into the issues of migration and development from the perspective of migrants, refugees and progressive advocates.
Tony Tujan Jr, director of IBON International, tackling the first topic of the plenary on the global capitalist crisis and migrant labor, stressed that labor migration, as a specific means of exploiting international surplus population by imperialism to depress wages and manage falling rates of profit in their homefront, implies that migrant labour issues must be addressed in the full context of imperialism, both in the sending country and the host country. Specific migrant issues and national policies, he further argued, must be put in the context of fundamental relations of trafficking in systemically cheap migrant labour, in solidarity to workers and people’s issues in the colonies and semicolonies and the workers issues in the imperialist home front.
Errikos Finalis of the Union of Working People of Greece, tackled the reality behind 'fortress Europe' and the various actions and resistance being waged by migrants and refugees themselves with the support of progressive European advocates and labor groups.
Teresa Gutierrez of the US-based May 1 Coalition for Immigrants and Workers' Rights, delivered in plenary input no. 3, a critique of sending countries' migration and development policies and strategies.
Nine workshop groups went to work to tackle a broad range of issues related to migrants and refugees, namely: 1) impact of the global crisis on migrants and refugees and people's responses, 2) situation of women migrant workers, 3) marginalization of migrant labor and relations with trade unions and social movements, 4) state repression of migrants, denial of rights to asylum, and the attacks on political refugees under the so-called “war on terror”, 5) urgent issues of the undocumented, their criminalization and 'fortress europe', 6) fighting racism, discrimination, xenophobia and fascism, 7) political empowerment and participation for successive generations of migrants and confronting policies and problems in integration, 8) engaging the UN and other international bodies in upholding and advancing the rights and welfare of migrants and refugees, 9) drawing lessons from campaigns on rights, welfare and resistance, and developing an education campaign on arousing, organizing and mobilizing migrants, refugees and advocates. The reports of the workshops were eagerly listened to and later, the approval of the proposed resolutions animated the delegates into enlightening debates, discussions and clarifications.
The IAMR2 declaration was approved without much controversial debates, and which in essence echoed the following, among others: that the fundamental solution to the problem of forced migration in the poverty-stricken semi-colonial countries is all-rounded development; that his development must be mainly a self-reliant development making use of the local human and material resources; that foreign aid from the wealthy countries is only supplementary and considered as payment of historical debt; that such kind of development can only happen through a radical and fundamental change of the present world order and calls no less for the dismantling of political and economic structures that perpetuate the iniquitous relations between the exploited and exploiting countries.
Before closing, the second IAMR approved the resolution for the IAMR2 participants and IMA member organizations to join and actively participate in the third IAMR in Mexico, again in conjunction with the GFMD meeting in that country. IAMR2 delegates also urged the IMA to lead in the preparations for that next assembly.
The solidarity affair during the last day of IAMR2 on November 3 was very warm and uplifting, amidst the strong rains that drenched Athens the whole day. The cultural performances, done spontaneously but very much engulfed by the spirit of international solidarity, exuded the determination of all delegates to continue the fight of migrants and refugees. Heartwarming poetry was recited, songs were sang, speeches delivered and messages of solidarity shared and read, not one seeking any need for translation despite the language barriers as the solidarity spirit became the medium of expression. It was IAMR2's cultural swan lake, so to speak.
The highlight of the second IAMR was the big demonstration held on November 4. It was organized mainly by the Network of Migrants and Refugees Social Support, with the cooperation of other progressive Greek groups. More than 5,000 people joined the demonstration, with the IAMR2 delegation at the forefront of the march that was determined to reach the site where the official government-led GFMD was being held. From Syntagma Square in downtown Athens, the demonstrators peacefully but militantly shouting slogans against imperialism and the GFMD, marched towards the site of the GFMD, but was eventually stopped from proceeding by a phalanx of Greek anti-riot police.
Teresa Gutierrez, spokersperson of IAMR2 said that governments in receiving countries following the dictates of their principals – the capitalist class, have sought to isolate the migrants and refugees from their natural ally – the working class of these countries. She stressed that the 5000 strong political demonstration showed the unity of the workers and the progressive people of Greece with the migrants and refugees. And thus, Gutierrez declared, we are building a progressive movement of migrants and refugees that stands united and strong and that will not allow the capitalist class to divide us again.
Making their presence felt and the point of their protest march noted and well-covered by the Greek and international media, the demonstrators marched back to where they gathered and dispersed peacefully, after holding a brief program at the site where they were stopped by the Greek police.
Adding further to the success of the second IAMR were four side events, namely: 1) the common forum hosted by the Network of Migrants and Refugees Social Support, held November 1 at the Athens University of Economics and Business, where IMA chairperson Eni Lestari spoke on behalf of the IAMR2, 2) the Migrants-Faith Communities Dialogue on: Strengthening Programs for the Care, Empowerment and Upholding Rights of Migrants and their Families on November 3, 3) the Dialogue and Strategy Meeting between Grassroots Migrants and Trade Unions on the Proposed ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, held November 4, and, 4) the 4th Europewide Conference of Organizations of Filipinos (ECOFIL), that assembled all Filipino delegates based in Europe to discuss the Philippine situation and to define action points on the issues of migration and human rights, transparency and the electoral challenge in 2010.
*This communiqué is prepared by the IAMR2 Secretariat (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and released on 26th of November, 2009. The IAMR2 secretariat can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org