Kerala leads in dealing with migrant issues: US expert

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala is leading the way in India in terms of demonstrating how governments should respond to various challenges of migration, said Elizabeth Ferris, an expert on international migration from Washington DC.

Ferris is in the capital city of Kerala now on a US state department-sponsored tour to learn about issues of labor migration.

“I am impressed by what the state is doing with regard to documenting abuses, intervening on behalf of migrant workers and considering how to facilitate reintegration of migrants who return. It is a good example being set by state government, which is taking a very proactive policy in favor of migrants,” she said after a meeting with officials from Norka Roots, the planning board and academicians on July 26.

Ferris, a research professor with Georgetown University, who has also served as senior adviser to the UN
General Assembly’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York, however, lamented on the lack of a
comprehensive migration policy in India, where, like in several other countries, migration needs to be ‘an integral part of development strategy’.

“A comprehensive migration policy is vital for healthy bilateral relationships as well. You can see that US-India relations are influenced by issues like H-1B visa and Indians’ migration to the US. International organizations do appeal to India and other countries to have a migration policy, to protect their people working overseas. The countries need to put pressure on recruiting agencies to be more ethical and make sure that migrants understand the work contracts and their obligations,” she pointed out.

Having worked with migration issues at the global level for a long time, Ferris holds Kerala as a microcosm of the world in terms of migration.

“The state is very dependent on a large population working overseas. Like Philippines and Indonesia, which give good support to their people working abroad, Kerala too is very much concerned about their non-resident population abroad. I heard from Norka officials about issues being faced by migrants in Gulf countries and abuse, particularly faced by housemaids.”

The countries, she said, should ensure that their people get better treatment in foreign lands. “The migrant workers could also get trapped in foreign countries during wars or natural disasters. There should be better mechanisms to evacuate people during such emergencies,” she added.

Ferris, who has written extensively on refugee and migration issues, is planning to write an article on her ‘Kerala experience’. “I could include it in the book on global compact for migration I am working on currently and could also use these experiences during upcoming discussions at international forums,” she said.

Global interventions on migrants’ issues happen at different levels, she elaborated. “There are human rights groups which stress the rights of migrants, pointing out when these rights get abused and pressing the government to intervene.

There are also regional-level organizations, besides the UN Global Compact for Migration.”

“But, the migrants and refugees are not that aware of their rights, especially when they are living in a country with different language and culture. You don’t lose your rights when you cross the border. Everybody has universal rights.

Some civil society groups are giving them training in human rights. And, here, governments can play a big role. Each country should hold other governments responsible for protecting the rights of migrants,” she asserted.

(Times of India)

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