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A striking feature of labour migration in the last decade or so is the increase in the number of independent women migrants and the entry of migrants into unprotected and informal work sites. This reflects the changes in the world of work in the sense that public sector employment and ‘permanent’ jobs are shrinking all over the world while opportunities in the informal sector are increasing. It also reflects the reality that development in information technology and infra structure has made it possible for people to plan and execute a move from one place to the other more easily.
However, certain things have not changed over the years. Class, race, ethnicity and gender based discriminations are still rampant. Information about places and legalities around employment, though available, is often inadequate and most working class people are unable to access reliable information. One of the contradictions in a globalised economy is that while goods are moving across borders quite easily, people are not. Movement and migration are fraught with many uncertainties and dangers for marginalized groups of people. Most of them need to take help from agents to facilitate their travel and find them a job. Several get exploited either in the process of migration or at work places and some get into a trafficking situation.
We notice that in the last few years the issue of migration has received greater international attention. The international discussion on the issue of migration over the last few years culminated in the first Global Forum on Migration and Development in 2007. There is stronger organising among migrant workers in spite of repressive state measures. Within anti-trafficking work, people have started looking at the issue of forced labour.
We see these developments as opportunities. While states are trying to keep trafficking and migration in two separate boxes, among some sections of civil society the understanding of linkages are getting stronger. Many GAATW member organisations are starting to address the issue of migration in their work.
GAATW’s analysis of the current global context within which trafficking occurs and in which anti-trafficking work is undertaken can be summarized as follows:
- More and more people are migrating both within and across national borders and entering the informal, unprotected work sector where conditions are ripe for forced labour practices.
- Women, young people and men migrating due to structural disadvantages, low economic opportunity, armed conflicts, corrupt systems of governance and deep seated social inequalities are becoming easy prey to the highly exploitative practices in newly emerging work places.
- Anti-Trafficking measures, (based on GAATW’s recent research) especially state policies, are proving to be overtly or covertly anti-working class migration and anti-working class women’s struggle for autonomy. Most states are unwilling to consider that strict border control measures only drive people to take desperate steps.
- Governments rarely are able to protect and respect the human rights of trafficked persons: assistance is either inadequate or made conditional on the trafficked persons’ cooperation with law enforcement; access to any kind of remedy for the harms suffered is extremely rare; and prevention measures are failing to target exploitation.
- No significant human rights analysis of NGO work has been done (although GAATW has made a small beginning through the thematic consultations) and many progressive NGOs take a rather protectionist view in their anti-trafficking work. Women’s rights and migrants’ rights NGOs, while potentially having an important role in calling for better policies, also often have limited conceptual clarity about the links between trafficking, gender, migration and labour.
- Anti-trafficking discourses typically do not involve those directly affected by trafficking in developing policy positions or responses, although this is a key element of the human rights approach. “Self-organised” groups of women face significant barriers to participation due to their often informal structures, varying literacy levels and familiarity with policy processes, discrimination and many other factors.
- Policies and standards on trafficking and migration are being developed increasingly at regional levels, as well as at the international level.
- There is growing awareness of trafficking for forced labour
- There is stronger organising among migrant workers despite repressive measures by Governments, more international discussions on migration
- There are some good signs of Anti-Trafficking and Migrant rights groups joining hands with each other
- There is Interest to look into the Human Rights impact of anti-trafficking measures in various forums
Right from its inception GAATW has conceptualized trafficking in the context of labour migration. While the alliance had decided to focus on the most vulnerable groups of migrants (i.e women who are trafficked) recognition of women’s right to mobility was always at the core of its work. As early as 2000 GAATW had brought out a publication called the Migrating Woman’s Handbook which was translated into several languages including Bahasa Indonesia and Georgian.
Over the years it has become clear to members of GAATW, especially those who have been working on this issue for a number of years, that a much more proactive pro-migrant-rights strategy needs to be adopted by the alliance so that states can not distance themselves from the issue of migration or justify stricter border control in the name of stopping trafficking. There is some degree of understanding among civil society actors of the conceptual linkages between trafficking, labour and migration but much more discussion needs to be carried out to see how collaborative steps can be taken.
In short, the alliance feels that a two-track strategy of engaging with anti-trafficking on one hand and expanding its engagement into the area of migration and labour should be retained and strengthened.
Based on the context analysis and the strategic decisions, we came to the following priorities for the period 2008-2010:
1. Promoting a Human Rights Centred Approach to Anti-trafficking Work
2. Promoting Access to Justice
3. Realising Rights (supporting the work of self-organised groups in the Alliance)
5. Building and Exploring Linkages with Migration, Gender and Labour Movements
6. Alliance Strengthening
7. Consolidating the capacity growth of the Secretariat
 Until the late 1970s, most writings on international migration either focused explicitly only on male migrants (usually conceived of as workers) or seemed to assume implicitly that most migrants were male. Such beliefs were rarely based on statistical evidence since, both then and now, data on international migrants often were not classified by sex. Recent studies show that for more than 40 years, female migrants have been almost as numerous as male migrants. However, the rise in the number of women migrant workers from developing countries is noticeable since the 90s.