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Migrant Workers Rally at Racism Conference

Supporters of migrant workers' rights rallied with renewed optimism at the World Conference Against Racism on Monday, after Belize ratified a key international convention on migrant rights.

Representatives of more than 80 migrant and refugee rights groups came to Durban to draw attention to the plight of migrant workers and build support for the convention.

Loretta Brunjo, a migrant worker in Hong Kong, believes activists at the conference have been able to draw attention to the links between racism and migrant labor. "We can consider ourselves modern day slaves of globalization," she said. "Migrant labor now represents the cheapest, most flexible, and deregulated labor, and I am very happy that in the NGO forum we have successfully highlighted the institutionalized and non-institutionalized forms of racism."

The activists are calling on the governments represented in Durban to take concrete steps to help migrant communities fight discrimination. They want the states to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers, which was adopted in 1990, but will only come into force after 20 states ratify it. With the approval by Belize, the convention has 17 ratifications. The activists say that the conference could mark a watershed in international recognition of migrant rights, if three more states ratify the convention by Friday, when the conference ends.

Sajida Ally, Asian Migrant Center, says approval of the convention is important because workers like Loretta Brunjo need international protections. "The Migrant Rights Convention is an extremely progressive convention," she said, "that outlines international norms and standards that need to be respected in order to promote migrant human rights. Right now, migrant workers do not have any such language to protect their issues."

Obtaining rights for migrants is complicated, because they frequently travel across borders and between jurisdictions. Ms. Ally says that, while some existing mechanisms and national laws protect the rights of migrant workers, a comprehensive and globally accepted framework would help promote rights no matter where violations take place.