Alex Au, Treasurer of TWC2, represented Transient Workers Count Too at a back-to-back series of meetings and conferences in Dhaka, Bangladesh, first week of December 2016.

First in the series was the General Forum of Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), a network of NGOs working on migration-related issues in the region. TWC2 is a full member of MFA. At the General Forum, discussion mostly centred on administrative issues regarding the running of MFA. Members also took stock of the progress we have made towards region-wide advocacy. TWC2 was acknowledged to have contributed substantially through our research papers to MFA’s priority mission: recruitment reform.

Above is a picture of the MFA members and secretariat attending the General Forum. Alex is seated at left.

On the second day, more non-member organisations joined the meetings, invited by MFA to its Asian Civil Society Day. There were 150 people in the hall, with many parallel sessions brainstorming on two main threads: Rights and Justice; and Governance of Migration. Participants came from across Asia, as far west as Israel and Egypt, and as far north as Mongolia.

A break-out session of Asian Civil Society Day organised by Migrant Forum in Asia.

A break-out session of Asian Civil Society Day organised by Migrant Forum in Asia.

On the third and fourth days, the lens widened further. Participation was now global in the People’s Global Action (PGA) meetings. There were about 300 delegates, some coming from as far away as Mexico, Guatemala, South Africa and Togo. There were six discussion themes over the two days: Climate change and migration; Borders and detention; Mixed migration; Labour migration and recruitment reform; Xenophobia and racism; Global governance on migration. Alex as the sole TWC2 delegate found himself torn between one concurrent session and another!

One of the parallel sessions of the PGA conference

One of the parallel sessions of the PGA conference. Standing: Brahm Press from Thailand and Ellene Sana from the Philippines.

TWC2 was the only organisation in the PGA to get a 90-minute slot to give its own talk. Alex presented “Videos as our voice”, a talk sharing TWC2’s experience producing videos as a communication tool to reach different target audiences. We showed six short videos that our interns made in 2015 and 2016, and discussed what we learnt from the experience. The talk was given in the spirit of sharing and capacity building for other participating NGOs.

The next in the series of conferences was the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). The 2016 conference was organised and hosted by the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh. Alex attended the first two days when the sessions were open to civil society — styled “Civil Society Day” and “Common Space”. In these sessions, government representatives, international organisations (such as the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration), trade unions and employer federations were present. However, there was no visible representation from the Singapore government. Despite the presence of non-governmental stakeholders, the sessions were dominated by politicians’ platitudes.

The 3rd and 4th days of the GFMD were for government delegates only.

There were plenty of networking opportunities at the conference. Especially as it was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the country of origin for the majority of TWC2’s cases, it was a fantastic opportunity to get to know NGOs in that country, and visit their offices and operations. We identified three organisations we hope to work closely with in future. One is strongly involved in pre-decision outreach, but also does post-return medical follow-up; another provides legal aid for cases of human right violations; and a third is coordinating the shadow report for Bangladesh at the next Universal Periodic Review. Bangladesh is up for review in 2018.

We also renewed our contacts with media and NGOs from Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar and India, countries of origin for many labour migrants in Singapore.  There were also useful opportunities to hear from Korean NGOs about how South Korea’s recruitment system is doing. The country’s Employment Permit System (EPS) cuts out agents altogether and caps fees to state-defined maxima. Bangladeshi workers going to Korea pay only US$907, as detailed in an earlier story linked here.