In a major gathering ignored by US mass media, thousands of migrants met in Spain from Sept. 11 to 14 to articulate a set of demands directed at governments across the world. Meeting at the Third World Social Forum on Migration, delegates represented organizations from more than 90 nations.
Issuing a final declaration, migrant representatives demanded legalization of undocumented migrants, strengthened United Nations protections, increased political rights in destination countries, the compliance of temporary worker programs with articles 97 and 143 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the ratification of the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, among other demands.
“To migrate is not a crime,” the World Social Forum declaration stated. “The causes that give rise to migration are crimes. Let’s raise our voices, defend our rights and struggle toward building a world without walls.”
The migrant rights statement blamed the mass migrations uprooting the planet on the current world capitalist economic model with all its attendant environmental and economic consequences. The ILO’s Patrick Taran has estimated that migrants represent three percent of the world population, or 191 million people.
At the mass meeting held near Madrid, particular criticism was leveled at the European Union (EU) and the Spanish government. Approved by the European Parliament last June and set to go into effect in 2010, the EU’s controversial “Return Directive” will allow member nations to jail undocumented for migrants for up to 18 months while awaiting deportation.
Anywhere from 4.5 million to 8 million undocumented migrants could be residing in EU member states, according to recent estimates. As in the United States, migrants are heavily employed in the construction, agricultural and service industries.
Apart from protests by Amnesty International, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and grassroots migrant groups, the new EU policy caused serious diplomatic frictions with several South American governments and leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who threatened to cut oil supplies and curb European capital flows in his oil-rich nation.
Although the Madrid forum was mainly a NGO affair, several representatives of international institutions and governments addressed the attendees.
Jorge Bustamante, UN special migrant human rights rapporteur, charged that migrants living in the United States were facing a “situation of terror.” The UN official likewise criticized his native country, Mexico, for its own alleged ill-treatment of immigrants.
“With shame, I have to say that we Mexicans treat them worse than they treat us in the United States,” Bustamante said.
According to statistics from Mexico’s federal Interior Ministry cited in the Mexican press, the United States deported 528, 822 Mexicans from September 2007 to August 2008, while Mexico deported 89, 507 foreigners, mainly Central Americans, during the same time period.
Bustamante took issue with the Spanish government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for cracking down on undocumented workers and supporting the EU’s return directive.
Said Bustamante: “It is incongruent for the Spanish government to approve this directive, which is a step backwards, an escalation of the criminalization of migrants, who are not criminals. Besides, there was a time that Spain was a country of emigration and many were victims of abuses. [Spain] should [sign the migrant convention] in remembrance of the benefits it received from those migrants. Spain has to honor the role it had in the defense of immigrant rights.”
Bustamante’s appeal to the Spanish government was echoed by Ignacio Díaz de Aguilar, World Social Forum coordinator and president of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid.
Enjoying an economic boom in recent years, Spain attracted many foreigners, who are estimated to make up as much as 11.3 percent of the country’s population of 46 million people. Of the foreign-born population, Latin Americans, especially Bolivians and Argentines, make up approximately thirty percent of the total. More recently, hard economic times have made Spain far less receptive to new immigrants.
In an interview with Latin American journalists last July, Spanish Labor and Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho Cháves said critics were unfair to lump Spain’s emerging immigration policy with the EU’s new directive. Corbacho said the Spanish government was encouraging voluntary repatriation, but that it would allow returning migrants to resume benefiting from the country’s social security system after a five-year absence.
“There is no change in immigration policy,” Corbacho said. “There is a new context in Spain and in Europe, and an economic complexity at the global level.”
For migrant representatives, not all the news delivered in Spain was bad. Alberto Acosta, ex-president of Ecuador‘s constituent assembly, told delegates that his country’s proposed new constitution will contain provisions for universal citizenship and free transit for migrants. Ecuador will allow its own migrants living abroad the right to elect direct representatives to the national legislature if the political reform is approved, Acosta said.
Elaborating on the same theme, Lorena Escudero, Ecuador’s minister of migrant affairs, proposed the creation of a universal passport to symbolize the ideas of “universal citizenship, non-discrimination and friendly and respectful integration.”
The World Social Forum’s migrant assembly concluded with a march of about 5,000 people through the streets of Madrid. Slogans shouted by the demonstrators included “No Human Being is Illegal” and “Our Voices, Our Rights: For a World without Walls.”
In its final statement, the Madrid assembly noted that the meeting occurred during the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other important world political events including the Sept. 11, 1973 coup in Chile. Keeping with a political theme, the declaration expressed solidarity with the embattled government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. The next World Social Forum on migrant issues is scheduled for Quito, Ecuador, in 2010.
From Frontera NorteSur, Sept. 17