By Faye Callaghan
National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies must be granted access to the vulnerable migrants they seek to assist, the 31st International Conference has been told. Migration was a hot topic at this week’s meeting of Red Cross Red Crescent societies, states and observers. The national societies of Tunisia, Mexico and Indonesia spoke about the challenges of assisting migrants and the ways they approach their work, bringing a human perspective to the debate.
While the revolution in Tunisia led to demonstrations across the Arab world, their turmoil lasted just four weeks. By contrast, the uprising in neighbouring Libya went on for nine months, forcing 1.4 million people to flee into Tunisia. The small Tunisian Red Crescent admits it was not prepared for such an influx. Secretary General Tahar Cheniti said that, despite limited resources, the society had a duty to fulfil. “There was massive solidarity from the Tunisian people who opened their homes and provided food and shelter,” he said.
Many migrants wanted to carry on into Europe where they hoped to find work, but up to 2,500 people died as they crossed the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. “We’re still managing requests from families searching for their relatives,” said Cheniti. With some 3,500 refugees remaining in Tunisia, such as Somalis who have no place to go, the Tunisian Red Crescent is running discussions at universities to get people to think about social integration and human rights. They have also provided seminars for judges to ensure migrants’ legal rights are respected.
In Mexico the situation is different, with many people travelling from South and Central America through Mexico in search of jobs or family in the United States. “On the journey many migrants encounter violence and other problems. Children in particular are increasingly vulnerable,” said Carlos Freaner Figueroa, from the Mexican Red Cross. The National Society provides medical services along the main transit routes, often train lines, and offers food to those who need it.
On another continent, the Indonesian Red Cross Society is planning a new programme to support domestic workers who run into trouble when working abroad. Often these migrants have their passports and mobile phones taken by their employer and are left with no means to call for help. Budi Adiputo, Secretary General of the Indonesian Red Cross Society, said that of an estimated 3.3 million Indonesian domestic workers overseas, around 142,000 have experienced problems. Their new programme aims to support migrants before their go abroad by educating them on the culture and laws of their destination country, providing first aid training, and by linking them up with support in their country of work.
The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has made concrete proposals relating to migration to state representatives attending the International Conference. They ask that all states ensure laws and regulations are in place to give National Societies access to all migrants, regardless of their status. States should also ensure the safety and protection all migrants at borders, and work with National Societies to enhance social cohesion which will help avoid discrimination and xenophobia. Finally, states are asked to collaborate and build partnerships within and outside the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, to create a consensus on the humanitarian response to migration and strengthen assistance and protection activities.