The Open Forum, with the participation of migrant workers, organisations and individuals working among them, provided an opportunity to collectively reflect on what needs to be done to secure a life of dignity for the migrant workers, their children and families. A note:
In solidarity with migrant workers, “Open Forum: Accompanying Distress Migrants” was held in Delhi to bring to public consciousness their plight, experiences and challenges. It was organised in commemoration of the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by UN General Assembly on 18 December, 1990.
Dr Rashmi Singh, Special Secretary cum Director, Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of National Capital Territory Delhi (GNCTD) in her address shared that “Migrants, who are involved in various sectors of the economy, make significant contribution to the life in our cities. This day reminds ourselves of the sacrifices and contributions of migrant workers in building cities we live in and taking on the essential services affecting our daily lives”. Congratulating the platform MAIN — Migrant Assistance and Information Network — for initiating the collective action, Dr Singh said “when we talk of information network, there is an exchange of commitments. There is no dearth of concepts, and in today’s date; and there is a great need for complete information, awareness and support”. If migrant workers are aware about their rights, then they themselves will come forward to enroll their children in anganwadis where they get the facility of nutrition and also preschool education.
Dr Singh shared about the Saheli Samanvay Kendras (SSKs), which is a unique scheme for socio-economic empowerment of women in Delhi. Acting as convergence centres, SSKs are providing on-demand services. They avoid all sorts of gatekeeping. Mental blocks should be curtained in way to realise that such services are meant for us. Awareness is important, but migrants should be connect with schemes, especially Shram portal, social security and income support programmes that are available. In order to take benefit of such programmes and schemes it is important to connect with government.
The MAIN network should be made effective use of as it can provide handholding support for getting the documentation done for accessing schemes and programmes by migrant workers.
Dr Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza, President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) said, “The Open Forum is being held not only to mark the day, but also to awaken the consciousness of the public regarding the plight and the challenges, rights and privileges of the migrant workers”. Quoting Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, he said that migration is a global phenomenon, and the reasons for migration are many– search for food, safe environment and protection from physical dangers. However, the important cause for migration is the dream and desire for better life. Dr D’Souza said the most unkindest response from the government was that it publicly denied the knowledge about the number of migrants and the number of their deaths during the pandemic. The government shunned its responsibility completely. He added that although the state of migrants is public knowledge now, it is important to publicise the narrative of the migrants, and to find pathways to support them in their endeavours towards a dignified life. It is in this context that the MAIN was initiated. Dr D’Souza concluded by pointing the need to collectively find an answer to build a dignified life for the migrants, and renew our love and commitment to migrants.
Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Chairperson, Ashakiran (GNCTD), and Member of the State Level Shelter Monitoring Committee set up on the Orders of the Supreme Court of India, said “Cities being promoted as the engines of growth” is the main reason for migration. People are coming to cities as there is no job in the villages to sustain them. There is nothing left in villages, and cities are the last resort for them. There exists two Indias—India and non-India. While everything works perfect—the Constitution of India, Supreme Court, etc, in the former, the non-India is of the poor, migrants, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, marginalised, etc. The poor and the migrant workers in the cities are the CityMakers, as they are the builders of cities and nation. Government is duty bound to make people atma nirbhar, and provide adequate housing to migrant workers coming to cities. In this Forum, we need to think about what policies are to be there in place to ensure a decent livelihood for people, especially migrant workers. Dr Singh added that at a time when the government failed to reach out to migrant workers who were in extreme distress during the COVID, several organisations, networks and people stood with them and provided support, and we should take pride in their solidarity.
“Increasing connectivity through rail and roadways is increasing the trend of migration”, said Bipin Kumar Rai, Member-Expert, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB). The situation has not changed, which began during the Britishers wherein railways were used for transporting materials and cheap labour to cities for industries. Migrant workers are not only in cities but also in our villages too. If we look at the issues of housing, we need to recognise that migrant workers are not coming to cities for housing, but to work. It is important to look at their issues in larger perspective, and bring solutions to them through effective policies. Delhi government has come up with effective housing policies, after studying the rehabilitation schemes and policies in cities like Mumbai, to provide housing for 5000 families. Resettlement for another 9000 families is also in the process. However, there are ambiguities in rules and regulations being framed by the central government, which is delaying the implementation of the housing schemes, Rai said.
Ms Jyoti Awasthi, Director, Laxmi, and the co-Founder and CEO of Satat Sampada, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, shared that the COVID pandemic brought the realisation that the crores of migrant workers among us in the cities do not have any social security, and when their work got affected the thought about their villages and family back home forced them to fled cities. They came to cities for work, with their dream to support their own home back home in villages. Today is an opportunity for us to look back and understand why migrants are coming to cities. If the migrants coming to cities have minimum skills, the ability to pay their train tickets, and support their stay, they are welcome. If they are distress migrants due to issues in family, violence, conflict, exploitation in villages, etc, they come with lot of problems. Nobody wants to leave home, and all those who leave their villages want to return once situation gets improved. Ms Awasthi added that the challenges are many since livelihoods are increasingly affected due to climate change, as more than 9 lakh people have got displaced due to climate change, work opportunities in cities are getting limited due to mechanisation, etc. Issues of migration will only get increase in the coming years.
Ms Awasthi added that MAIN needs to look at the hotspots of migrants and what can be done for the distress people there, as it is critical to address distress migration.
Dr Siji Chacko, Director, MAIN and the Conference Development Office, Jesuit Conference of India/South Asia, welcomed the participants and also shared about MAIN. He shared that MAIN is the outcome of the felt-need for a concerted, collective and innovative response to reach out to the distress migrant workers across 12 States in India. It is envisaged to work closely in collaboration with NGOs, institutions, organisations, and state governments by developing a replicable and sustainable model of Accompanying, Serving and Advocating for the cause of distress migrants. Dr Denzil Fernandes, Executive Director, Indian Social Institute, Delhi, shared how MAIN as a collaborative effort is evolving as a national network. He acknowledged the importance of awareness during the pandemic, and the support provided by the network across the states.
While endorsing this year’s global theme of “Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility”, the Open Forum in its Declaration called upon:
- State and policy makers at various levels to address the real concerns of migrant workers by tackling poverty, insecurity and social exclusion with appropriate policies for decent jobs, decent wages, social security and protection measures, and social justice respecting democratic coexistence in diversity and pluralism;
- Fellow citizens and governments to join in the collective action required to respond the vulnerabilities faced by distress migrant workers;
- Individuals, institutions, organisations including NGOs working with migrants, to contribute to develop adequate policy response in order to harness the potential of migration, thereby ensuring that the basic and fundamental human rights of migrants are protected;
- State to ensure and improve access to schemes, programmes and entitlements for all migrant workers; and
- State to strengthen data systems to help policymakers, planners and programme implementers to design effective targeted interventions for distress migrants.
Further, the Declaration has called on the state to restructure its policies around basic livelihood resources and their use to ensure that migrant workers’ livelihoods are comprehensively ensured, and that food security, adequate housing, including shelters for migrant workers in cities, income security, social protection (including healthcare, insurance, childcare services) as well as bodily integrity are duly protected. As a network, MAIN, has committed to extend its outreach to distress migrants to strengthen their voices to achieve their rights and entitlements for a life with dignity.
The Open Forum was organised by MAIN, Conference Development Office (CDO) of the Jesuit Conference of India/South Asia and Indian Social Institute (ISI). More than 150 participants including migrant workers and representatives of various organisations and networks working among unorganised sector workers attended the Forum held at ISI, Delhi. They also addressed the gathering, and shared their experiences and challenges. Community workers celebrated the event singing theme songs. The event also showcased the support provided by the network to migrant workers and their families across several states during the pandemic.