The 4th UNAOC Forum ended today and I’m trying to collect my thoughts over the experience of attending such a massive global scale event representing a local grassroots organization (but doing real active action). Over 2,500 people from hundreds of nationalities and backgrounds attended with the best intention of creating ‘intercultural dialogue’ for diversity, multiculturalism and development. Qatar funded the whole operation and we were all fed impeccably, flew comfortably and slept in 5 star hotels. The question is if the amount of money invested in the Forum was worth it, did it lead to any real tangible results?
My impression from the three days was that there was a lot of talk. And unfortunately most of the talk came from the speakers and not the audience. The coordination of the whole Forum was lacking, in terms of schedules (often delayed), rooms (often changed), speakers (often missing) which led to sessions that did not reach at all the full potential and discussion that it could have. Because of a room change I didn’t know about I actually stumbled late into a high level ministerial discussion on human rights. I know, this sounds amazing, ministers from different countries discussing how they could really implement and change narrative on human rights, human dignity and security in their countries. However, attending the session was only 4 participants and none a minister!
Moreover, the whole time the discussion (often more philosophical than practical) on migrant issues (such as discrimination, integration and often focused more on Europe, Australia and US) took place we had a constant backdrop of an army of migrant workers assisting in every aspect of the conference. Qatar is country where 75% of the population are migrants and where there is almost a full segregation between the foreigner workers/residents and the local Qatari citizens. An Indian migrant told me that there was no need for him to learn Arabic because he will never speak directly to a Qatari! Read a great report by ITUC on the migrant worker situation in Qatar.
How can we be discussing ‘intercultural dialogue’, ’embracing diversity’, ‘fighting discrimination and intolerance’ in a country (and region) where these concepts are mere glossy terms obviously not taken into real consideration in practice? And where was the participation of the migrant workers in the discussions?
The Forum took place at such a ‘high’ level and on such general terms that I feel like we haven’t gotten much except for visibility and raising some awareness of the challenges faced by migrant contractual/domestic workers in the Middle East. There is a lot of other good projects, initiatives and people on the ground who should have been represented at the Forum, which would have created the dialogue that’s needed for real action.
Nevertheless, here are some highlights of good work worth mentioning and sharing:
- El Migrante Newspaper
- World Migration Report 2011 (IOM) – just released in Nov.
- The Migration Policy Group and the Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX)
- Reach out to Asia (Qatar Foundation) Adult English Literacy Program for migrant workers
- United Against Racism – they have an awesome mapping database but unfortunately only for Europe
- Youth Empowering Parents (YEP) – like MWTF but in Canada