Migrants and Refugees Challenge UN Talks, Call for Genuine Comprehensive Immigration Reform


“We are workers, not slaves!” Migrants in front on UN

by International Migrants Alliance

NEW YORK, NY—Over 350 migrants and refugees from across Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America gathered in New York City October 1-5 for the 4th International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR4).

The IAMR4 week of activities included a one-day dialogue between migrants, refugees, and church representatives, a press conference and flash mob in Washington Square Park followed by 3-day conference at St. Patrick’s Church in Long Island City.

“We are gathering just 3 miles away from the UN High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development [UN HLD], where state governments are discussing how to manage the lives of 215 million migrant workers worldwide to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goals. But they don’t want to hear from us migrants about how their policies really affect us and our home countries,” states Eni Lestari, Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), the main convener of the IAMR4 and an Indonesian domestic worker working in Hong Kong since 1999.

“The UN HLD claims migration can be managed as a tool for development, but what kind of development do they mean when our home countries are getting poorer and migrants are facing greater exploitation? The IAMR4 is the international grassroots-level dialogue of migrants and refugees who can speak for ourselves and can speak on what our home countries need for genuine development,” Lestari continued.

Highlights from the assembly also included a visit from Cuban mission representative to the United Nations, Ariel Hernandez, who delivered greetings in person to a packed assembly hall, and a cultural performance by Bronx hip-hop activists Rebel Diaz.

March to the United Nations

After the first day of workshops, IAMR4 launched a 400+ march from Times Square to the UN Headquarters where the UN HLD was taking place.

IAMR4 representatives who registered to UN HLD walked out on the first day and joined the march when efforts to assert genuine migrant voices inside proved futile.

Chanting “We are workers! We are not slaves!” the IAMR4 march first passed through the consulates of the Dominican Republic, where the march was joined by Frente Amplio President Fidel Santana, and of Nigeria, where IAMR4 keynote speaker and Nigerian refugee Rex Osa-Aghedo led a spirited rally.

“Migration should not be treated as a tool for development but rather as a development concern which should be addressed in the post-2015 agenda,” stated Garry Martinez, Chairperson of Migrante International, an alliance of Filipino overseas organizations and IAMR4 convener. “Migration, as a choice or an obligation for family survival, should serve as a measure to see whether development goals are working.”

Marchers passed through Dag Hammarskjold, down First Avenue until they reached the front of the UN Headquarters building. It was the first time since 9/11, protesters were able to march down the heavily police-barricaded First Avenue to demonstrate at the UN.

Speakers at the IAMR4 rally in front of the UN included Fidel Santana, Frente Amplio President of the Dominican Republic, and Saul Arellano, son of IAMR4 spokesperson Elvira Arellano, who became a symbol of undocumented immigrants in the US in 2006 when she defied a federal deportation order and sought sanctuary with Saul in a Chicago church.

March for Genuine US Immigration Reform

Responding to the national day of action for US immigration reform, IAMR4 delegates marched for genuine comprehensive immigration reform across the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday, October 5.

“The US must lead the way in how it treats its immigrants and foreign workers with dignity and respect, and we immigrants need to be in the forefront of this struggle,” stated Terrence Valen, President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), an IAMR4 convening organization.

IAMR 4 Assembly

IAMR 4 Assembly

Chanting “Whose Bridge? Our Bridge!” the IAMR4 march called for legalization and denounced deportations, militarization of the borders, and neoliberal trade policies.

“If Obama wants to get rid of undocumented immigrants, he should first stop pushing policies that wage war and plunder our home countries, that force us to migrate,” Lestari stated, explaining US immigration reform can never be genuine without addressing the root causes of forced migration.

IAMR4 delegates capped off a successful assembly and march at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge near City Hall with a flash mob dance entitled “Millions of Migrants Mobilizing Worldwide.”

For pictures, videos, and more information on the IAMR4, visit www.iamr4.com .