No persecution in Bahrain or the UK: Let Isa Al-Aali stay.

This was an update from my piece which originally appeared in Slaney Street.

by Amanda Dorter

“The youth in Bahrain are victims of unfairness and injustice by the regime… Many have been calling for the release of relatives, improvement of the human rights situation and democratic rights. Our demand is to seek justice for impunity in torture cases. If I return, I’m returning to death and torture.”

Isa Al-Aali, in an interview with John Lubbock, May 23 2014 Vice

Sign petition here to keep Isa from being returned to torture.

Hopefully by now you’ve heard of Isa Al-Aali, the 19 year old torture survivor fighting to remain as a refugee in the UK, against fears of repeated judicial torture in Bahrain. He got an 11th hour reprieve last week from deportation back to Bahrain, but his struggle is far from over and he could face a renewed deportation order as early as next week. We are asking people near and far to sign and share this petition, calling on the Home Office to release this torture survivor from detention immediately and to grant him leave to stay as a refugee. Letters of solidarity and support for Isa to the Home Office are encouraged and can be cc-ed to: sayed[at]birdbh.org.

According to a recent statement made by Al-Aali to Vice following news of a legal injunction against his removal, “I’m still not confident about the next steps for the Home Office. My experience has been miserable, so it’s just a temporary decision”

Part of the peaceful pro-democracy movement in Bahrain following the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising, Al-Aali was first detained by police in 2013 where he was thrown from a moving vehicle whilst shackled, beaten, threatened at knife- and gun- point, including being threatened with having his genitals cut off.

He was detained twice more and fled his homeland after being threatened with death for refusing to turn informant on fellow protestors. Bahrain has a well-documented history of political repression and human rights violations, including using weaponized tear gas and bird shot against protesters and using torture. Bahrain security forces have killed at least 95 people since the 2011 uprisings. Bahrain’s Prince Nasser has recently been accused of participating in torture himself. It should be noted that the UK, in the face of clear evidence of growing human rights concerns, continues to defend Bahrain.

Since coming to the UK, he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to 5 years prison in Bahrain. When the Bahrain government somehow learned that Isa’s asylum claim was turned down, they were quoted in their newspaper heralding his return to Bahrain, claiming that people like him were not political refugees but terrorists who needed to be deterred. They celebrated the UK’s “reason” in refusing his asylum claim. The on-going media attention surrounding his case and the rising exposure of Bahrain’s repressive state put him at greater risk.

He came to the UK seeking asylum from a judicial system that is widely recognized to use “Arbitrary Detentions, Ill-Treatment, and Torture” only to be taken into custody upon landing in the UK and put in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre for the last 3 months. Harmondsworth has been the site of on-going campaigns against poor conditions and negligent-to-violent staff, including the detainee hunger strikes at the beginning of May. A 2014 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found Harmondsworth to be deteriorating, rather than improving, in its care of vulnerable people.

He was put into the Detain and Fast Track (DFT) system, which has been widely criticized since 2006 for not allowing people proper time or resources to adequately represent their claim; Isa certainly lacked proper access to legal support or even translation when first detained. The Home Office also has explicit rules against holding people who have been tortured under DFT and yet here is where Isa remained. Medical Justice calls detained torture survivors “second torture”.

Imagine the torment one would feel after fleeing from psychological and physical violence to the promise of security, only to find that the notion of the UK as a welcome space for democracy and freedom and a refuge for those subjected to persecution at home, is a myth.

This hope of sanctuary from torture is systematically taken away: by being not welcomed but detained at the airport, faced with an obfuscated and Kafkaesque bureaucracy in a foreign language, held in a detention centre known for its neglect and violence, with every hope of freedom shattered in the outcome of his successive asylum hearings. It’s still much better than what Isa faces in Bahrain. After all, who would subject themselves to such a system in the UK if they weren’t at risk of grave physical danger where they came from? But it must come to an end nonetheless – an end that sees Isa finally walking free; free from detention and guards, free from torture, free from persecution, free from fear.

 

Please help him achieve this. Call on the UK to release Isa immediately from this arbitrary and harrowing detention and grant him leave to remain in UK without fear of persecution or return to torture. Sign and share this today https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-home-secretary-we-the-undersigned-call-on-the-home-secretary-to-immediately-release-19-year-old-torture-survivor-isa-al-aali-from-detention-and-to-grant-him-indefinite-leave-to-remain-in-the-uk#

For those unfamiliar with the case, you can visit the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy for a full background and updates. You can find a piece with broader context, including information and links about Bahrain’s human rights record, The UK relationship with Bahrain, and the UK trajectory on migrant rights on Slaney Street

You can also find out more about the UK’s cozy relationship with Bahrain, as well as more coverage on Isa’s case, human rights in Bahrain, migrant detention and the growing xenophobia of the UK in this annotated list below.

LINKS
ISA AND HIS CASE TO DATE

Vice Interview with Isa http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/isa

Petition: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-home-secretary-we-the-undersigned-call-on-the-home-secretary-to-immediately-release-19-year-old-torture-survivor-isa-al-aali-from-detention-and-to-grant-him-indefinite-leave-to-remain-in-the-uk

Update on Isa’s current situation at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy  http://birdbh.org/2014/05/uk-court-delays-deportation-of-19-year-old-bahraini-torture-survivor/
Update from Bahrain Watch https://bahrainwatch.org/blog/2014/05/23/uk-court-delays-deportation-of-19-year-old-bahraini-torture-survivor/

Backgrounder http://birdbh.org/2014/05/uk-plans-to-deport-torture-survivor-facing-imprisonment-in-bahrain/

Initial articles about Isa’s removal order:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isa-haider-alaali-case-bahraini-teen-fears-torture-after-losing-asylum-claim-9392576.html

(£) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/53cc2584-e1ab-11e3-9999-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F53cc2584-e1ab-11e3-9999-00144feabdc0.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&siteedition=uk&_i_referer=#ixzz32X4yEgmo

Pieces putting Isa’s case in context of Bahrain human rights record, Bahrain/UK relationship and the Fast Track system  for asylum claims in the UK:
http://www.slaneystreet.com/2014/05/19/home-office-to-send-bahraini-pro-democracy-activist-to-face-imprisonment-torture-and-death-threats-isa-haide-al-aali-will-be-forcibly-removed-from-harmondsworth-on-thursday/

http://www.righttoremain.org.uk/blog/bahrain-and-uk-no-sanctuary-from-torture/

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/esme-madill/bahraini-torture-survivor-resists-deportation-from-britain
Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/saveisa/
Twitter #SaveIsa #SaveIsaAlAali

UK AND MIGRANT DETENTION
Migrant strikes against conditions in detention and “detain and fast track” system https://network23.org/antiraids/2014/05/07/hunger-strike-and-protests-now-in-3-uk-migration-prisons/

Piece on migrant detention and fast-tracking, following hunger strikes by migrants in detention centres, including Harmondsworth, where Isa is being held http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/no-listening-us-britains-migrant-rebellion/

June 7th protest at Harmondsworth against Fast Track and Detention https://www.facebook.com/events/704451662945994/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

“second torture” of detaining migrant torture survivors http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/reports-a-intelligence/mj/reports/2058-the-second-torture-the-immigration-detention-of-torture-survivors-22052012155.html

UK Home Office notes on Rule 35 prhibiting vulnerable people from being detained and fast tracked https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300366/17.2012_v2.0_-_Application_of_Detention_Centre_Rule_35_ext.pdf

Deaths of migrants in custody http://www.irr.org.uk/news/deaths-in-immigration-detention-1989-2014/

High Court on DTF for torture survivors http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/news-blogs/7329

BAHRAIN AND THE UK

Exposé on allegations of torture by Prince Nasser by the Financial Times (behind a paywall) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/98a09550-d8eb-11e3-a1aa-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F98a09550-d8eb-11e3-a1aa-00144feabdc0.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&siteedition=uk&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.slaneystreet.com%2Fwp-admin%2Fpost.php%3Fpost%3D1955%26action%3Dedit

and in the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/bahraini-prince-nasser-bin-hamad-alkhalifa-could-lose-uk-diplomatic-immunity-over-torture-claims-9359303.html

UK’s analysis of Bahrain, including acknowledgement of use of torture and repression of freedom of expression https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/country-case-study-bahrain-progress-on-reform-implementation

UK “mission” and “priorities” with regard to Bahrain https://www.gov.uk/government/world/bahrain

2014 Human Rights Watch report documenting “regression” of human rights in Bahrain http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/bahrain

Experience of other Bahraini dissidents living in the UK https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/11697-bahraini-activists-speak-out-about-systematic-persecution-by-british-government

Critiques of the UK relationship with Bahrain and Isa’s removal order ;   http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/16/uk-bahrain-prince-windsor_n_5336978.html

BAHRAIN CONTEXT

15 year old boy killed last week by police with birdshot in Bahrain http://www.abna.ir/english/service/important/archive/2014/05/22/610428/story.html
Torture of journalist Nazeeha Saeed http://www.mediadefence.org/stories/my-story-nazeeha-saeed

Account of torture from Bahrain http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/i-was-tortured-as-a-bahraini-political-prisoner-0000005-v20n1

Release of political prisoner from jail in Bahrain http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27559533
Bahrain Watch https://bahrainwatch.org/

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights http://www.bahrainrights.org/

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/858
UK’S RISE OF XENOPHOBIA
https://www.facebook.com/groups/59856051718/permalink/10152543052286719/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10854566/David-Cameron-draws-up-immigration-laws-to-foil-Ukip.html
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/478076/We-were-wrong-we-are-sorry-Senior-Labour-MP-Sadiq-Khan-pens-open-letter-to-Ukip-voters
(more links coming soon)

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Waiting…

first published with ASIRT, circa April 2014

– by Amanda Dorter

I arrived to my first volunteer shift at ASIRT‘s weekly drop-in clinic to a group of people already waiting; 17 people had had signed in before 10am and they, alone or with  their children, friends and family, filtered in as we opened the doors. And then they waited some more. First for an initial intake, then again for more in depth support in trying to understand and navigate through the opaque and Kafkaesqee Home Office bureaucracy within which they were trapped.  Over35 people signed in for the clinic that day whilst the 6 of us, three staff members and as many volunteers, engaged holistically with empathy whilst trying to see everyone in a timely manner, a nearly impossible contradiction to resolve given the convoluted nature of most people’s needs. But most people come to ASIRT as a last resort. What can they do but wait, all day if needed, in hopes that when they leave they will be one step closer to realizing their rights or, at least, one step closer to food and shelter for the coming few days.

As they waited, a volunteer came by with lunch, (the only meal that some of them would have that day), supporting each other in keep their babies happy, their toddlers occupied and arranging to get their older kids picked up from school. They found solace, advice, and interpreters among each other, sharing a sense of camaraderie that is built through adversity and waiting rooms.

“Adil” was new to Birmingham, being forcibly relocated from his hometown of more than a decade in Leicester, where his solicitor, family and friends were. He had come in to try to establish support in his new city. When i asked if he had secure housing and money for the time being he said  “I don’t know”, and showed me a recent ruling that denied him Section 4 support (£36/wk on a non-transferable Azure swipe-card, valid at a restricted list of chain-stores for a restricted list of items and housing). He didn’t understand the decision, let alone know why, getting the results of the decision but not the rationale; Adil was very confused. Fortunately, a seasoned ASIRT worker speculated that his this decision might be due to a problem with his claim, and that we should try to track down if that was true and what it might be. Were it not for this insight, he’d never have known there was a problem with his newly-filed asylum claim.

I spent over 2 hours with one phone on redial, trying and failing to get through to various UKBA offices, whilst i used my mobile to call the courts, his solicitor and a Leicester-based charity he’d accessed, to track down various pieces of this puzzle that had left him destitute and unaware of the status of his claim. Without credit for his phone or money for the train, he couldn’t possibly have tracked this information down himself.  We eventually got a copy of the decision to deny him funding which, in everyone’s opinion, was illegal. But through it we learned that his claim had been submitted to the wrong office, despite having a receipt saying his claim had been received. He had no idea that his claim was therefor rejected, pending a new submission to a different office. We figured this out with unanswered rings to the UKBA telephone number as a monotonous and relentless soundtrack. His next step, to make an appointment to resubmit his claim to an office in Liverpool, required a train ticket and an appointment. ASIRT can get access to funds for such a ticket, but the more difficult matter will be the appointment. I’m told some people have wrung that office for 3 days straight without getting through. And that they only answer the first 30 calls in a day.

Here was a shoe-string budgeted charity in which workers are somehow making time to see over 35 people in a day, trying to reach a fully-funded government agency that can’t even answer the phone to book an appointment. It’s baffling, but indicative of the increasing need for charities like ASIRT to exist and be able to continue to see every person who walks through the door, and spend the time needed to sort out the intricacies of each person’s needs.

Adil’s circumstances are far from rare. In many cases, in fact, people with young children find themselves in similar circumstances, and end up couch-surfing or sleeping rough for weeks, months, even years, until they find themselves at ASIRT, where they manage to access temporary food and shelter, and start the process of getting greater stability.

Adil’s circumstances also illustrate why so many people want support for even some of the simpler aspects of being a migrant in the UK. One error can lead to disastrous results, and so people even with relatively secure status came in with forms to fill out, terrified of making a single mistake lest they be sent back to the beginning of this bizarre nightmare of bureaucracy, and have to endure more waiting, destitution, and possibly face detention or deportation.

One, a permanent resident who had lost her documents in a fire had been waiting for the Home Office to send back her file, so that she could essentially submit it back to them to get new documentation from them to prove her existing status. In the interim, she received the ubiquitous communique from the UKBA’s bumbling bounty-hunter firm, Capita, indicating that she may be subject to removal and should leave as soon as possible.  She came in full of questions: “Who are these people? Is this legit? Does this mean there’s another problem with my file? It doesn’t seem real because why on earth wouldn’t they send an official letter. What would have happened if this had gone to a spam folder? Are they just trying to intimidate us, because, if they are, it’s working.”

She was not alone in her wait to get documents back from the UKBA, many long past the 40 day deadline to respond to such requests.

Still others were waiting on files from ex-solicitors, including the firm Blackmores, an office that was shut down controversially, after experiencing some financial struggles due in part to policy changes including those that make legal aid increasingly difficult to access. With Blackmores gone people are struggling to find someone else with the needed expertise and qualifications who can become familiar with their case. With changes to legal aid rendering 93% of immigration cases no longer eligible, finding new solicitors will be nearly impossible for most. Yet claims are 50% more likely to succeed with legal representation. People using ASIRT are increasingly relying on pro-bono legal services or support from the Birmingham Law Centre –which came close to closing this winter due to lack of funds—to deal with some aspects of their case. ASIRT itself is not immune to this decade’s economics; charities like ASIRT have seen average reductions of 20% in funding over the last year, and funding sources as well as individual donations continue to diminish. The current economic climate is conspiring with on-going changes to polices around legal aid, judicial review and immigration policies to deepen the pool of destitution, with fewer and fewer ways to keep afloat and a decreasing number of organizations able to help people navigate their way out. Which is why, I suppose, so many people were so patient while they had to wait.

And after all,  people who come to ASIRT are sadly used to waiting, having often been in and out of limbo, waiting for claims and appeals to be ruled on, for new ones to be filed, fighting sometimes for well over a decade, for basic human rights here, enduring destitution, violence and unrelenting fear in the UK as a better option  than any other alternative they may have. And so, after weeks, months, years of this, they were willing to endure 8 hours longer in the hopes that this will lead to eventual security, if not for ever, at least for a little while.

And that is why ASIRT so needs the support of us all in continuing to both intervene at policy levels and provide the tireless service committed to helping out everyone who comes in, with an unwavering sense of care, respect and solidarity for the services users, as well as for each other—something that is rare and hard to maintain in understaffed, stressful, front line work. I have to say in my short time there it’s been one of the more supportive and collaborative environments i’ve worked. I wish circumstances were such that ASIRT had no reason to exist, but I appreciate the work that they do and the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of it so far.

I’ll be back for my third volunteer shift this Thursday, but this Sunday I’ll be participating in a walk to help raise money for ASIRT. Every dollar raised will be matched by the Midland Legal Support and will go directly towards maintaining the services that so many people wait for week after week. If you can help support us in any way, by donating to ASIRT, joining us in the walk, and/or spreading the word to your communities, please do. Please help ASIRT continue it’s work, giving hope to those dispossessed and destitute by our system, so that, at least for some, the wait for justice and security can come to an end.

Who cares for the cargivers

[first pubilshed in a cook ‘zine “from farm to fork” by  le frigo vert collective circa 2009 http://www.lefrigovert.com/ More recent info on canadian migrant workers can be found here http://interparesfundraising.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/international-migrants-day/#%5D

Part nanny, personal care attendant, health care worker, maid and cook, we can’t forget aboutdomestic workers when we talk about food and health. The majority of domestic workers arewomen, from the Philippines, but also from Caribbean countries who enter Canada through theLive-in Caregivers Program. And though they work tirelessly to feed and care for their employers,they often have little access to food or care themselves.

Coming to Canada because of conditions ofpoverty in their homeland, created by programsof global capitalism, women often leave behindtheir own families to come and take care ofsomeone else’s here in Canada, all for the hopesof being able to send home money, andpotentially, eventually being able to move herewith their families.

One of the biggest difficulties for Filipinaworkers entering Canada through the LCP isthat of immediate forced integration.“With children,” says Evelyn Calugay, a memberof Pinay, a Montreal-based Filipino women’sorganization that focuses particularly onworking to organize and empower Filipinodomestic workers, “ it’s recognized thatintegration should be done gradually rather thanabruptly, but workers are expected to integrateimmediately. It has a huge effect on yourphysiological system to be immediately forcedto eat an entirely different diet.”

Generally, when they do shopping for theiremployers, they shop in places that don’t carrythe type of food they are used to, so they areonly able to access their own food on their dayoff, and some aren’t even allowed to bring theirown food back if, for example, doing so wouldviolate a dietary mandate (such as kosher law).Room and board is supposed to be part of thedeal for domestic workers, but many are deniedaccess to their employers food.

Employers will keep track,” says Calugay, “They will look in the fridge and ask about every morsel that is missing”. Calugay says some members of PINAY admit that they live on bread and butter, while others admit to keeping

food under their bed.

But often, food is the least of their worries.The wages are low and although on paper, thesewomen are entitled to days off and privaterooms, in practice, they rarely have privacy andare often on call 24-7. They receive no benefitsand in Quebec, are not even covered by CSST(Quebec’s workers comp), which means thatthough they take care of other people’s health,they have no resources to take care of theirown. Indeed, many who become injured, ill orpregnant while in the LCP find themselves firedfrom their jobs thereby losing their workpermits and being at risk of deportation.When asked to describe the treatment oflive-in caregivers over all, Evelyn said they aretreated as “disposable objects; not human

beings”.

We are hailed as ‘modern-day heroes,’ butin fact, we are ‘modern-day slaves’,” said YolynValenzuela, of Siklab, a Filipino migrant workersgroup, in a recent speech about the LCPPeople in the LCP program can, after working24/36 months, apply for landed immigrantstatus, but the criteria are so restrictive andthe conditions so harsh few make it that far.A main barrier to this being that as soon as adomestic worker changes employment forwhatever reason, (be she fired, fall ill or leave,even if she leaves an abusive or dangerousenvironment) she must apply for a new workpermit. Though permits can be issued withinweeks, it often takes upwards of 6 months, and,in some cases, over a year.In the meantime, mostwomen find work, but without a valid workpermit, they not only have no legal rights butbecause these jobs are not documented, theirtime is not counted towards requirements ofthe program. Simple math shows that if the bureaucratic wheels turn too slowly, the workerwill never make the 24/36 month requirement,and will be deported..

Calugay describes this as “…a cycle [predicatedon] survival of the fittest”

Unbelievably, these conditions are better thanthey were. In the past, workers would have toreapply for permits periodically even if theyremained with the same employer. A long foughtcampaign demanding that LCP workers begranted a work permit for the full 3 years andnot be tied to a specific employer had a partialvictory: 3 year permits are now issued. The factthat the permits remain tied to a particularemployer, however, renders this victorysomewhat hollow in that most workers changeemployers throughout this 3 year period andthen are stuck with the problem of not beingable to document work until their newpaperwork (permit) has come through.LCP workers in Quebec won a moresubstantial victory through the Quebec HumanRights Commission recently. Currently,domestic workers in Quebec are not coveredby CSST (Worker’s Compensation in Quebec).A report done by McGill professor and co-founder of the Montreal Immigrant WorkersCentre, Jill Hanley, found that 30% of domesticworkers experience a job-related injury. In November of 2008, the Quebec Human RightsCommission ruled that this exclusion wasdiscriminatory on the basis of gender, ethnicityand social status. Of course, the ruling is onlythe first step and to date it is unknown howthe CSST will interpret and manifest this newstandard. [having left the jurisdiction shortly after writing this, i have no idea how this has affected the terrain]

[another update: Montreal Immigrant Worker’s Centre http://iwc-cti.ca/ launched an association of temp agency workers in order to fight and organize for themselves for better work conditions and dignity…and struggle for basic things that we all take advantage of… such as minimum wage, holiday pay, dignity and respect, and also against their own injust situations of fighting for status and against deportations..The struggle continues

  • Amanda Dorter is a frigo collective member

For more info or to stand in solidarity with workers in the Livein Caregivers Program

check out the Pinay website at http://pinayquebec.blogspot.com/

Tainted food: The politics of food production and its labour in Canada.

[first published for le frigo vert’s cookzine: From Fork to Farm – circa 2009]

There is a constant and understandable concern about the quality of the food that we eat. Frequent recalls due to contamination, the decreasing nutritional value of non-organic and industrially farmed food, and new studies discussing relative benefits or dangers of various products keep many of us on our toes. “Buy local” trends have also been on the rise as people believe that it is safer, more ecologically sound and ethical or at least neighbourly to support small, local producers. But the most profound issues of food politics go beyond ecological and health concerns to the consumer. Behind the food we consume is the taint of colonialism, racialized and gendered oppression, and exploitation of workers throughout the world.

At times, it is impossible to make choices that are affordable, nutritious and just; indeed it’s often impossible for consumers to find out about the conditions under which a particular piece of food is grown, picked, processed and served, but the more information we have, the more conscientious our choices can be. Just as we might commit to doing an herbal cleanse after a binge of take out meals and junk food, we can commit to fighting for workers’ rights even though we might consume the food brought to us by worker exploitation.

People need to move from personal health consciousness to holistic human consciousness,” says Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia (Justice) for Migrant Workers (J4MW)in an interview with me a few days ago.

Throughout Canada, all food industries, from farm to processing to food service rely heavily on migrant labour to do difficult and often dangerous work at a low cost to the employer yet a high cost to the worker. The majority of these workers are are not entitled to permanent status in Canada nor to many basic rights, such as minimum wage, overtime laws or basic health and safety coverage. In some cases, people participating in the program can, after a long period of time and the meeting of many requirements, apply (with no assurances) for landed immigrant status, but the criteria are so restrictive and the conditions so harsh that few workers make it that far.

Many people enter into these programs because of poor access to food and basic necessities in their homelands. These conditions, due to decades of imperialist exploitation through policies of global capitalism like the IMF and World Bank, force people into coming to places like Canada either under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or more specific programs such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP)and the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) that are designed to maximize profits for Canadian employers (Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program pdf.).

Though there are differences with all these programs, what they have in common is that the workers essentially have few rights and no recourse. Minimum wage and overtime laws do not apply. People are often forced to work without breaks. Workers are housed by their employers with little, if any, privacy or safety. In the case of farm workers, access to food, clean water, and basic sanitation such as toilets is not even a given (J4MW, December 2, 2008). D

When asked about the treatment on such farms,Ramsaroop recalls something told to him by a worker when he first because involved in migrant worker justice. ‘To the local (white) people, we are invisible.’ That’s always stuck with me,” he said. “They’re straight up…and they all say the same three things: indentureship; slavery; treated as less-than human,”

In “The Real Dirt on Farm Work” by the Centre d’Appui (2006) a 69 year old worker has spent 20 years working 8 months per year through the SAWP program and “is still no closer to getting residency status or claiming the Employment Insurance benefits he’s paid into than the first day he arrived” describes his experience in similar terms:

[T]hey treat us like slaves”, he says of SAWP. “The Mexican government sells us and the Canadian government exploits us”

Such a system harkens back to the way in which Turtle Island came to be colonized. After mass theft of land and slaughter of indigenous people, European settlers cleared the land, started large-scale plantations, and maintained elaborate households, with slave labour.

It’s also interesting to note that, in addition to migrant labour, large-scale food production (from farms to abattoirs) relies heavily on prison labour. Prisoners have no labour rights, not even on paper. In Guelph, prison labour was used throughout most of the 20c for farming and slaughterhouse work firstly owned by the department of corrections, but eventually privatized with Better Beef. Slaughterhouse workers have higher overall mortality rates than the average worker.

Inmates at the Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, known as The Farm, work plantations of sugar cane, cotton and corn earn 4-20 cents an hour, sometimes working 17hours without a break. 85% of prisoners at The Farm will never leave, even being buried on prison grounds. Many of the prisoners working there today trace their roots back to slaves who worked the same fields during the antebellum, while many guards and administrators trace their heritage back to plantation owners from the same time

And while prison labourers have no avenues of escape from the toil, migrant workers are bound not only by having no other options, but by fear of physical and emotional violence, sexual assault, violence towards their families, and a constant fear of deportation.

Many of the requirements of the various programs are tied closely to work permits, which are often short-term and offer no real protection, as people find themselves fired and immediately deported without cause or notice, and forced to pay their own ticket home. And if a worker’s permit expires, or s/he leaves one employer, they must reapply for a permit which is both costly and involves time delays. Though permits can be issued within weeks, it often takes upwards of 6 months, and, in some cases, over a year. In the meantime, in order to make ends meet, these people have to take under the table jobs, which means no rights or protections at all. Additionally, because these jobs are not documented, they do not count towards requirements of the any program.

The majority of undocumented workers,” says Michael of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, “are asylum-seekers waiting for their work permits. It can take 6 weeks, it can take more than 18 months, and people are not given any idea of which it will be, or why.” In order to live, they have no choice but to work under the table to make ends meet. Not only are they not protected by any labour laws, but they fear any complaint they make might reflect badly on their asylum review, that they might be pegged as “trouble-makers”.

Furthermore, undocumented workers may be here without status for a number of reasons: fleeing war, poverty, violence and discrimination in their homeland but not recognized as refugees by the Canadian state. In such cases, too, the workers have no legal rights, just a great fear of being exposed and deported if they stand up for their rights.

Michael describes conditions in meat packing plants around Montreal:
Quebecois workers leave the plant after their 8 hour day while the migrant workers remain. Male workers are kept for 10 hours and then sent home before the women, who are then moved to an area of the plant unmonitored by cameras, locked in and not allowed to leave the room until quotas are met.

And again, there is no recourse. Complaints of such conditions, and of abuse, or sexual harassment are commonly met with indifference at best. In many cases, the complainant is forced into resignation.

In some cases, migrant workers who have tried to organize for better conditions have faced fears beyond their own personal safety, when their families back home began to be threatened.

Canada relies on undocumented workers to fill labour shortages in “low-skilled” (read low-paid and unsafe) jobs—essentially jobs that anyone with status would refuse to take. Many foreign workers are actually highly-skilled professionals, but their accreditations are not recognized in Canada.

There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers across Canada without labour rights and in constant fear of deportation. Earlier this spring, the Canadian Boarder Services Agency conducted raids on migrant worker communities in southern Ontario, a tactic used against such communities periodically.

“The purpose of these raids is to heighten a climate of fear and insecurity in immigrant communities. These raids are part of Canada’s revolving door immigration policy where workers are used and disposed of with little or no rights”, says Mac Scott of the Law Union of Ontario (toronto:nooneisillegal, April 4, 2009).

Despite numerous public campaigns to regularize undocumented workers, conditions have only worsened, and the resources to fight them are scarce, with the larger unions and social movements failing to support this vulnerable population.

“Bluntly, it’s racism,” said Ramsaroop about the phenomenon. “It’s how we view Black bodies”, he continues, explaining that people have just come to accept that people from Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean—the vast majority of the population in the SWAP—having fewer rights and security is just part of the Canadian context.

Problems remain where workers are part of a union in that collective agreements tend to favour local workers over migrant ones. In cases of dismissal, foreign workers are often immediately deported, which makes filing grievances against wrongful dismissal all but impossible.

Earlier this decade, in Montreal, an organization called the Workers Solidarity Network formed to promote solidarity between workers, particularly precarious workers. On a few occasions, the network would take on plights of individual workers. In some cases, the network would confront the employer demanding redress for a particular problem, such as payment of wages owed (Star, October 19, 2005). Though these cases were successful, they are individual success stories within an inherently flawed system, and one that is unlikely to be reformed. [update: recently, the Immigrant Worker’s Centre in Montreal started an independent Migrant Cleaners Union, which has the potential to fight back in a way similar to the Workers Solidarity Network]

There have been a few gains won over the years, but these are always tenuous [now, in 2012, as the Harper government just passed the Refugee Exclussion Act, conditions for all people without citizenship are worse than ever]. For example, when farm workers in Ontario won the right to unionize, Rol-land Farms, Canada’s largest mushroom producer, fired nearly 200 migrants from Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala and evicted them from company housing (Rol-land Farms Limited, 2009). Many had gone into debt to come to Canada through the SAWP program and were laid off after having completed only 4-8 months of a 24 month contract, meaning they were subject to deportation

Over all, there is little hope for justice in the near future regarding any of these conditions.

Ramsaroop describes the trend to be “a consolidation of power […] and accentuation of exploitation” and does not see that changing, though there does seem to be growing awareness and support.

What impact this support has on the conditions remains to be seen.

As Ramsroop puts it, “We can’t afford to be trendy. This cannot just be another sweatshop movement [that loses momentum and interest within a few years]. The movement has to be a sustainable and long term movement, fighting to ensure that workers have respect and justice here”

While being conscious of what you eat and where it comes from is one step towards this goal, getting behind the organizations and workers involved in the struggle is much more important. Consumer politics may show small shifts in the industry, but only large-scale movement will bring about any lasting reform.

Please visit the websites of PINAY, the Immigrant Workers Centre and Justacia 4 Migrant Workers for more information and ways of getting involved.

http://pinayquebec.blogspot.com/2007/03/pinay-is-on-internet.html

http://www.iwc-cti.ca/en

http://www.justicia4migrantworkers.org/

 References

Agriculture Workers Alliance. (2009). Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://awa-ata.ca/

Fritschi, L., Fenwick, S., & Bulsara, M.. (2003). Mortality and cancer incidence in a cohort of meatworkers. Occupational and Environmental Medicine Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://oem.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/60/9/e4

Harris, S. (2009, May). StraightGoods: Shut down Alberta’s temporary worker program: report Alberta labour fed says fads reshaping immigration policy by the back door. Vue Weekly Retrieved May 6, 2009, from http://www.straightgoods.ca/2009/ViewFeature.cfm?Ref=262

Hodge, J. (2006). Unskilled labour: Canada’s live-in caregiver program. Undercurrent, Vol. III, No. 2, 60 – 66. Retrieved May 6, 2009, from

http://action.web.ca/home/narcc/attach/Unskilled%20Labour-%20Canada%5C%27s%20Live-in%20Caregiver%20Program.pdf

J4MW (2009) Seasonal Agricultural Workers. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from www.justicia4migrantworkers.org/bProgramc/pdf/sawp.pdf

No One is Illegal. (2009). Over 100 Migrant Workers Arrested; Communities Demand Their Release. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/278

Pratt, G. Assessing Canada’s live-in caregiver program Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://www.metropolis2008.org/pdf/20081031/plenum/20081031_gender-dimensions-of_pratt-geraldine.pdf

Rol-land Farms Ltd. Retrieved May 7th, 2009 from http://www.rollandfarms.com/english/index.html

Star, P. (2005) (en) NorthWest America, Unfinished Business #3 – Montreal’s Workers Solidarity Network: Class Struggle Unionism. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://tuxic.nl/pipermail/a-infos-en/2005-October/000832.html

NOII-Toronto Over 100 Migrant Workers Arrested; Communities Demand Their Release. Retrieved May 6, 2009 fromhttp://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/278

Stead, H. (2002). Guelph, apeople’s heritage1827-2002. Guelph, ON, Canada: City of Guelph.

ufcw. (2009) Rights for Ag Workers. Retrieved May 6, 2009 from http://www.ufcw.ca/default.aspx?SectionID=a3b41eb1-f567-4f3b-8a8b-e70050308832&LanguageId=1