Borders as Bridges, Not Barriers




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The UN International Migrants Day began in 2000 to take “into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world”. The day – December 18th – is significant, as it is when the UN General Assembly signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. [1] The Convention’s primary objective is to foster respect for migrants’ fundamental human rights, and emphasize that they are humans, not only workers.

Today, more than 232 million people live outside their countries of birth, with the U.S. as the top destination, followed by Russia, Germany and Saudi Arabia.[2] There are also changing trends: More migrants are moving South-South as a result of conflict, the cost of moving to developed countries, and new economic opportunities in developing countries. [3]

To see where migrants come from, the International Organization of Migration has designed an excellent migration visualization tool, available on their website.

However, there also are intolerably high human costs of migration. The Convention has not been ratified by any migrant receiving states in Western Europe or North America, nor by other important receiving countries, such as Australia, India, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Throughout the migration process, billions of dollars are pocketed by financial intermediaries and recruiters, while the migrants themselves are extremely vulnerable to trafficking, violence, discrimination, extortion and marginalization. Many end up working in dirty, dangerous, degrading jobs, remaining largely unheard and invisible in society.[4] Fortunately, there are many organizations working to change this reality.

38758397210_mss_3745Manav Seva Sansthan, SEVA, works at strategic Indo-Nepal cross border transit points to ensure safe and informed migration and to combat human trafficking. While the porous, unrestricted border of 1700 kilometers can lead to many social and economic benefits for nationals of both countries, the 2000 daily migrants from Nepal are also vulnerable because of misinformation and their lack of social awareness and links to service networks. As a result, approximately 7000 to 10000 Nepalese are trafficked annually to India. This project operates on the notion that the more the migrants know, the less vulnerable they are to exploitation.

To ensure a safe migration process, SEVA focuses their efforts at the border, with trained staff and stakeholders who are trained to identify human trafficking and provide information to migrants. They have set up Life Guard Centres at strategic border locations, where they partner with police and border army personnel to identify human trafficking victims, spread awareness of trafficking and unsafe migration, and provide rescue and rehabilitation to victims. This process is assisted by a Cross-Border Anti-Trafficking Network (CBATN), which includes sensitivity training for stakeholders in the media, recruitment agencies, cross-border organizations, government, transportation services, and NGOs to recognize and address human trafficking.

Within India, they have also created a 24-hour toll free helpline, which provides emergency assistance, counselling and referral services for trafficking victims, and also information to the public on human trafficking. Additionally, provide services such as halfway homes.

So far, SEVA has provided information on safe migration to 133,124 cross-border migrants, repatriated or reintegrated 9756 apparent victims of human trafficking, and supported 491 women and children in shelter homes.[5]

202599975210_mss_3251They were recently awarded the Intercultural Innovation Award, a partnership between the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group to support innovative grassroots projects that are encouraging intercultural cooperation and dialogue.[6] They have also received the 2010 International Star Impact Award, the Godfrey Philips National Bravery Award for Social Bravery, and the 2012 NGO Award, from the Government of India.

In the words of SEVA’s Founder and Executive Director, “I hope for a future where a border is not a barrier, but a bridge between two communities to enable safe migration and economic development”.[7]

For more information on this project and additional work by SEVA, visit their website. To learn more about International Migrants day, visit the UN website, or look up #IAmAMigrant on Twitter. Click here for more in the International Organization for Migration, or here for their Facebook page.












Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

One Comment:

  1. Great article!

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