Recommendations: Mekong Symposium on Migration “Migrants from the Mekong Neighbourhood Living Together: Seeking Effective Responses to Enable Integration and Social Cohesion”

Mekong Symposium on Migration
Migrants from the Mekong Neighbourhood Living Together
Seeking Effective Responses to Enable Integration and Social Cohesion
February 26th – 28th 2013

The Mekong Migration Network has brought together 72 representatives of governments, academic institutions, INGOs, NGOs and migrant groups from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar/Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Yunnan province of China, to share our perspectives on how migrants and host communities can live together. The participants jointly developed strategies and recommendations to enhance social cohesion in the Mekong region and enable migrant and host communities to live together peacefully and in harmony.

Although migration is not a new phenomenon in the Mekong region, migrant communities and host communities have lived side by side but not together for many decades. They rarely interact. Absence of connections, or dialogue or of sharing between the communities gives rise to misunderstandings, negative attitudes, discrimination and inequalities.

Every day, equality and rights are being tied to immigration documents and denied to those who do not have these documents. All human beings are entitled to human rights, they cannot be denied on the basis of immigration status. The participants believe that the governments and peoples of the Mekong Subregion must acknowledge and practice this principle in order to create an environment where all peoples can live together. We must all work together to build trust and mutual respect.

A migrant worker representative at the Symposium asked how migrants could live together with their host community when their living and working conditions were so sub standard. The host community does not want to see or know that such conditions exist and the migrant community is ashamed to have to live in these conditions. He also stated that the vast majority of migrants do not receive the legal minimum wage and suffer humiliation from the negative stereotyping of migrants. Current living and working conditions, particularly the lack of enforcement of labour protection, dangerous conditions and exclusion from social services are creating barriers between migrants and host communities.

To break down these barriers and facilitate migrants and the host communities to live together in an integrated society the Symposium proposes the following recommendations:

Recommendations to the Governments of the GMS Countries

1. Working and Living Conditions

  • To set up a regional committee to oversee the working and living conditions of migrants;
  • To ensure that all workers in all sectors are protected by national and international labour standards;
  • To enforce employers’ compliance with the labour protection laws and employment contracts and sanction employers who persistently disregard or abuse the laws;
  • To eliminate dangerous working conditions and occupational health hazards and develop and implement decent work and Occupational Health and Safety standards throughout the GMS;
  • To ensure that migrant communities have essential services (including water supplies, garbage collection etc);
  • To make provisions for equal access to social services (including vocational training, housing etc) and social welfare benefits (unemployment, compensation in case of accident etc);
  • To ensure that migrants and their families have equal access to health care.

2. Education

  • To enable all children in the GMS to have equal access to education that acknowledges and respects their language and culture;
  • To issue educational certificates to all graduating students regardless of nationality or immigration status;
  • To develop a committee to explore the future mutual recognition of school qualifications in the GMS;
  • To develop a topic in school curriculums on the history of migration and current day migration;
  • To support exchange study programs in the GMS;
  • To jointly develop curriculums that reflect the transnational nature of today’s world and include rights education;
  • To strengthen migrant workers’ access to vocational training and further education to enable them to fulfill their potential.

3. Cultural Understanding

  • To provide orientation for potential migrants and migrants in situ including appropriate language training and audio materials and information on traditions and modern day culture.
  • To provide orientation trainings for law enforcers, teachers, nurses and other government officials, to develop their skills to work in multi-cultural and multi-lingual settings.
  • To provide orientation information to host communities about migrant cultures.

4. Access to Information

  • To provide information about laws and rights and safe migration to migrants and also to provide contacts details of available services (legal aid, NGOs etc) through consular services, recruitment agencies, relevant government departments and civil society;
  • For governments to develop mechanisms to disseminate information comprehensively to migrant communities;
  • To strengthen and expand consular services and make them more accessible to migrants.

5. Discrimination

  • To legislate and/or adopt policies on anti-discrimination laws on grounds of ethnicity, culture and gender;
  • To review periodically the content and implementation of anti-discrimination laws and policies to bring these in line with international standards
  • To develop curriculum, workplace policies, and public service practices to reflect international standards and good practices on the management of diversity and multculturalism in the region;
  • To raise awareness among media to use terminology which is respectful of migrants and their cultures.

Recommendations to ASEAN

In collaboration with civil society, including migrant workers, to agree on respectful terminology to describe migrants and migration.

To support the ASEAN group on Standard Education Qualifications to raise awareness about portable educational qualifications and to develop recommendations for mutual recognition of qualifications.

To implement the recommendations from the 4th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (Bali, 2011) especially the section on the “promotion of positive image, rights and dignity of migrant workers”.

To delay no longer in developing an ASEAN instrument on the implementation of the Declaration on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant workers that includes family members and complies with international human rights and labour standards.

To collect and disseminate accurate data on migration to inform social dialogues on different approaches to social cohesion and integration.

Recommendations to Civil Society

Leaders of both host and migrant communities (trade unions, women leaders, religious leaders, community leaders etc) need to create common spaces for positive interactions between the host community and migrant communities.

Recommendations to Media

To ensure that media stories of migrants and migration issues do not contribute to discrimination and negative attitudes. Media coverage should never incite hatred, violence or degrade the dignity of migrants.

And finally, the Mekong Migration Network is pleased to announce that one of the practical outcomes of this symposium is that the MMN will embark on a project to create children’s books on migration in the Mekong.