The 5th and last WorkLab organised under the project TAS Migration Labs, WorkLab Synthesis “Migrate with dignity”, took place on 28 May, online, through the Zoom platform.

To learn more about (un)sustainable models of migrant labour, slave labour and the role of young people in promoting a more participatory and conscious citizenship, we invited Vasco Malta, Head of Mission at IOM Portugal, and Felizmelo Borja, Student at the Instituto Politécnico de Beja.

Vasco Malta, as Head of Mission at IOM, began by explaining the work carried out by IOM, as the United Nations Agency for Migration, stressing that its activity is based on the principle that an ordered human migration benefits migrants and the origin, transition and destination societies. IOM’s mission is to help address the growing operational challenges in managing migration, to better understand migration issues, to defend human dignity and the well-being of migrants, and to encourage economic development through migration.

The speaker explained that the main activities carried out by the organisation, which cover various topics from climate change and migration to migration and health, labour migration and migration or migration and development.

He also highlighted the importance of correctly defining the concepts of migrant and refugee. He clarified that a migrant is a person who moves from his/her usual place of residence to another place within or outside his/her country, temporarily or permanently, for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, a refugee is someone forced to leave his/her usual place of residence, his/her country, for reasons of survival, associated with different contexts linked to race, religion, nationality, political opinions or affiliation to a certain social group.

“A refugee is always a migrant, but a migrant is not necessarily a refugee.”

Vasco Malta, IOM Head of Mission

In this sense, he mentioned several reasons that lead a person to leave his/her country of origin and enter another: poverty, living conditions, unemployment, social inequalities, conflicts and lack of access to health and education.

Through a quiz held live with the participants, Vasco presented some figures, facts and curiosities about migration in Portugal and worldwide. We learned that, in 2019:

  • About 600,000 foreign people live in Portugal with a residence permit;
  • Brazilian nationality is the most representative nationality of foreigners residing in Portugal for over 10 years;
  • There are 272 million international migrants (representing 3.5% of the world’s population);
  • The majority of migrants come from India, with an estimated 17.5 million citizens living outside the country;
  • The main destination country for migrants is the United States of America.

IOM calls for an fights for the right to work and fair working conditions. Vasco told us about the legal issues imposed and the role of governments in labour-related migration issues. Based on statistical data, he presented and explained the main challenges faced daily by migrants, such as multiple discrimination (migratory status and gender), low-skilled work, the greater risk of abusive recruitment practices and exploitation, and less capacity for authorities to supervise workplaces.

The speaker noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on migrants who were in more vulnerable situations and that, in many countries, they were at the forefront in combating the pandemic, while most of the population was complying with the duty of confinement and mobility restrictions, whether in hospitals or in the production and distribution of food.

To end his intervention, he presented a vision for the future, which must involve guaranteeing respect for the human rights of migrants, recognising the interconnection between development, namely economic, and migration, facilitating safe mobility, promoting good management of labour migration and ethical recruitment.

He also advertised IRIS, a network created by the IOM, aimed at Member States, private companies and associations to debate scenarios on how to promote ethical recruitment, which are the best practices and what is the role of each of these entities in promoting ethical recruitment.

In his testimony, Felizmelo Borja shared his personal experience and the situations he observes as a migrant in Alentejo. Since he arrived in Alentejo to study in 2017, he has noticed that the working conditions of migrants and all the issues associated with them have been getting worse over time.

“Talking about migration in Alentejo is sad, because we will be talking about slave labour.”

Felizmelo Borja, Student at Instituto Politécnico de Beja

In this sense, he explained the lack of conditions faced by migrants in Alentejo, which often result in indecent work, the lack of housing conditions and slave labour.

The speaker highlighted the importance of migrants for the local economy of host communities, recalling that, especially in areas with less population, migrants significantly contribute to the circulation of the local economy, and alerting that, however, they end up being the most harmed.

He also stressed that there is structured racism in migration, which results in extreme difficulties for migrants in accessing work and housing with decent conditions. Based on his personal experiences, Felizmelo says that, even in the academia, this is visible when, during the pandemic, student residences were opened and migrant students were not included/accommodated in these residences.

With regard to indecent work, Felizmelo ended his intervention by alerting to the need for greater inspection of work employing migrant populations and prompt response to cases of slave labour.

The WorkLab ended with a debate, during which participants had the opportunity to ask the speakers questions about their interventions, namely, how can the academia help raise the visibility of activism, how can we help migrants who are still undocumented to avoid situations of slave labour, the role that governments can play in combating situations of migrant slave labour, and also if there is a statistical relationship between the more rural areas and the occurrence of situations of slave labour involving migrants.

This was the 5th and last WorkLab organised under the project TAS – Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis – Migration Labs, promoted in Portugal by IMVF and co-funded by the European Union through the “Europe for Citizens” programme.

The purpose of the project TAS – Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis – Migration Labs is to support the principles of EU citizenship and promote an improvement in civic and democratic participation at EU level, reaffirming values of solidarity, intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and combating stereotypes on migration and minorities.

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