Migration challenged as development tool
4th Churches Witnessing with Migrants consultation
by the Rev. Liberato Bautista on October 13, 2013
Participants in the 4th International Consultation of Churches Witnessing with Migrants are shown last week at a candlelight vigil at the Isaiah Wall fronting the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.
Migrants are human beings who cannot be reduced to mere commodities to be traded and exchanged in the global market.
This bold declaration is part of a 17-point advocacy paper issued by about 100 representatives of some 60 churches, ecumenical groups, and migrant organizations from around the world. They met in New York City on the eve of the 2nd U.N. High Level Dialogue on International Migration & Development this month.
In his keynote address, Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala, program executive for the Just & Inclusive Communities Program of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Geneva, urged to give visibility to the reality of forced migration that makes many people vulnerable to many forms of abuse and exploitation.
Dr. Manchala said that the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable is not our next-door friend, family member or work colleague. Rather, the neighbor is the nameless and faceless victim, beaten and bruised, and left abandoned by the roadside.
“It reminds us that Christian love for neighbor, if only demonstrated within circles of familiarity, ignores those the society considers ‘the others’ and ‘the inferior,’” Dr. Manchala emphasized. “[It] betrays the essential Christian calling.”
The commandment also implies that you must not only love your neighbor because she/he is in need or suffering, but also even if you don’t know them by name and face, even a stranger, according to Dr. Manchala. “To that extent, all of us, human beings, are neighbors to each other, even if our identity markers are different for each,” he said.
The ‘Other’ is My Neighbor
The consultation theme, “The ‘Other’ is My Neighbor,” was also the title of a book launched at the event. This theological statement on migration and its ecclesiological and missiological implications is the culmination of a year-long study process initiated by the WCC. The Rev. Michael Blair of the United Church of Canada reviewed the book and its usefulness to churches in different contexts.
Manchala and Blair said the study and the consultation’s advocacy paper would inform the 10th general assembly of the World Council of Churches which meets Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 in Busan, South Korea.
The keynote address of Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, reinforced Manchala’s comments. “Forced migration is an anomaly,” Martinez stressed. “Ours is now an era of modern-day slavery wherein governments, in need of hard currencies, continue to subject migrants and their families to most cruel conditions, even while greedily buffeting their domestic economies with the hard-earned monies remitted by migrants.”
Martinez said there can be no human rights if migration is by necessity and not by choice. “There can be no genuine and sustainable development if governments continue to consider money remittances as lifelines for the national economy,” he said, “but does not redound to the welfare of its producers: the migrants and their families.”
Migrants are human beings first before they are workers, Martinez emphasized. “They are not mere statistics to buttress a country’s Gross Domestic Product,” he stressed.
A human right
Both Manchala and Martinez affirmed the freedom of movement of peoples as a human right. Likewise they said forced migration is a violation of that right. The consultation’s advocacy paper called for a migration policy and framework based on human rights, sustainability and development justice.
Such framework, the consultation declared, makes urgent the immediate securing of the well-being, safety and sustainability of migrants and the strategic fight for greater justice. The fight includes addressing global and structural inequalities brought about by colonial and neo-colonial exploitation and plunder, and the current unjust international trade, investment and financial regimes that have led to the “destruction of livelihoods and the basis for unsustainable development in poor countries.”
The consultation lamented — in fact, it said “we resist” — the “unfettered movement of capital while the movement of peoples is highly restricted.” The consultation celebrated the organizing of migrants and their resistance to structures that perpetuated their continued oppression and exploitation.
Affirmed development justice
The consultation affirmed development justice as a principle by which the human rights of all, including migrants, are fully realized and individual and collective well-being of the people and the environment are secured.
The voice and presence of the migrant is primary when their condition as peoples and their rights as migrants are on the negotiating table. Migrants addressed the consultation with their presence and voice, presenting stories and narratives that addressed both their pains and joys, but more importantly, their struggles and triumphs in asserting their dignity and protecting their rights.
Such voices included Eni Lestari, an Indonesian woman based in Hong Kong and chair of the International Migrants Alliance; Rex Osa, a refugee from Nigeria, representing Karawane/TheVoice, based in Germany; and Sra. Rosa Martha Macias Zarate, singer, composer and advocate for the Alianza de Ex-Braceros del Norte of Mexico.
Vivi Akakpo presented African perspectives, and Tabitha Sabiiti, who jointly represented the All Africa Conference of Churches, based in Nairobi, Kenya, with an advocacy office at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Several calls came out of the consultation including:
- institutionalization of a U.N.-directed periodic review process to check its member states on their adherence to and implementation of already available international human rights and labor standards;
- calling for the promotion of dialogues for cooperation between and among states aimed at improving the welfare of migrants, including an end to the extraction of cheap labor;
- pursuing a state regulation on private recruitment and finance agencies; and
- protection of migrants in vulnerable and at risk conditions, especially undocumented migrants and domestic workers.
The consultation strongly urged all U.N.-member states to ratify U.N. and International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, particularly the U.N. Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers & Members of their Families and ILO Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers.
The consultation was unanimous in urging to stop classifying migrants as threats to national security.
Speaking as Asia Pacific Forum (US and Canada) co-chair hosting the consultation, I described the consultation calls as matters that are deeply embedded in biblical, theological and ethical understandings of churches and other religious and faith traditions. Our advocacy for justice, sustainability, human dignity, and the human rights of migrants comes out of our witness with and among migrants and their organizations, a witness of a God whose hospitality is profuse and radical and whose love is unbounded and unconditional.
CWWM participants approved the advocacy paper as a tool to lobby for a migration framework based on human rights, sustainability and development justice.
Government delegates of Norway and Sweden and representatives of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and François Crépeau, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers, who were attending the High Level Dialogue, have been in dialogue with CMMW leaders and received the advocacy paper. Consultation participants have also distributed versions of the advocacy paper to other High Level Dialogue delegations.
Several participants committed to produce study guides of the advocacy paper to aid education, organizing and mobilizing work at all levels among varied groups. The study guides will refer to the WCC document and cite other important references from migrant, church, ecumenical and interreligious groups.
Affirmed common advocacy platform
In addition, participants affirmed the proposal of making the CWWM a regular platform for common advocacy among churches and ecumenical bodies, migrants through the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), and other religions and faith communities. To reflect the increasing interreligious composition of the CWWM, a new name will be chosen, possibly in 2014 in Stockholm, Sweden, when it meets on the sides of the annual meeting of the Global Forum on Migration & Development.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and Migrante International initially conceived CWWM. From the three previous smaller consultations held in Manila, Athens and Mexico, to the fourth international consultation here, participation has grown considerably.
The New York event gathered many migrant, church, and ecumenical groups that included Lutheran World Federation, Baptist World Alliance, All Africa Conference of Churches, Latin American Council of Churches, Migrante International, Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants and International Alliance of Migrants. The consultation included representatives of four Roman Catholic religious orders and one lay group.
Significant support came from members of the WCC-initiated Global Ecumenical Migration Network. The support of Karibu Foundation of Norway and the United Church of Canada has made possible the significant representation of migrant groups from the Global South at the consultation.
Mervin Toquero of NCCP leads the CWWM Secretariat based in Manila, Philippines. He called the consultation significant and successful. “Beyond witnessing, we left New York with a solid commitment to oppose forces and dynamics that breed forced migration, continue to deny welfare to migrants, and denigrate their dignity and violate their rights,” he said.
Toquero prayed that God’s abundant grace be on those “deprived of a life lived with dignity but denied with rights like the millions of migrants and their families around the world.”
Editor’s note: The Rev. Liberato Bautista directs the General Board of Church & Society’s U.N. & International Affairs office, which is in the Church Center for the United Nations.
You can download a copy of the Churches Witness with Migrants Advocacy Paper atThe Intersections of Migration, Human Rights & Development Justice.