Precarious migrants and national migration systems Re-thinking the mobility/security nexus from a human rights perspective

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  • Precarious migrants and national migration systems Re-thinking the mobility/security nexus from a human rights perspective

The workshop brings together academics from interdisciplinary backgrounds who are active in research and public policy debates on migration processes including the regulation of borders, modes of belonging and entitlements, social and cultural networks, human rights and the interaction of these issues with local populations.

The regulation of borders, the needs of a ‘flexible’ economy and the rights of migrant workers and other types of migrants with a precarious status such as asylum seekers and trafficked persons are key public policy issues that intersect in Australia as well as in other countries of the Asia Pacific region. These intersecting issues are the focus of vigorous theoretical and policy debates from a number of disciplines including law, international relations, sociology, anthropology, demography, criminology and political philosophy.

This workshop aims to explore the ways in which the precarious status of migrants is produced, in particular the institutional production of this status. In turn, the workshop aims to identify conceptual frameworks and policy approaches to ameliorate the effects of precarious status and the various forms of vulnerability migrants are exposed to. The term precariousness captures the various forms of irregular status that increasing numbers of migrants find themselves in. Precarious status also refers to the limited access to work rights and other entitlements and social benefits that are often associated with citizenship status. Many theorists point to the need to advocate policy approaches that go beyond the binaries of citizen/non-citizen and the access to entitlements, or the lack thereof that accompanies it.

As states have turned to temporary and guestworker schemes in recent years and as border zones are increasingly securitized, increasing numbers of migrants are described as having precarious status and thereby are vulnerable to harms, to forms of exploitation and to human rights abuses. The workshop aims to consider how such status can be normalized for the benefit of the migrant, the host state and the country of origin. Through various case studies and a deliberate inter-disciplinary focus, this workshop is organized around the key themes of inequality, human security, transnationalism, human rights and justice in order to investigate new conceptualizations of human vulnerability and the diverse regional and international perspectives on ameliorating the effects of marginality.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1990, but did not enter into force until 1 July, 2003. Significantly, no Western states have signed or ratified the Convention, including Australia. The UN has estimated that more than 214 million migrants, including migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers, permanent immigrants and others, live and work in a country other than that of their birth or citizenship.

More recently, in 2006 the International Labor Organisation produced a multilateral framework on labour migration as a set of non-binding principles for a ‘rights-based’ approach to labour migration. In articulating these principles to guide states in national policy and bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, the ILO principles acknowledge the need for new approaches to rights and entitlements that temporary non-citizens can access. Evidence from empirical research indicates that various categories of temporary migrants, including migrant workers, asylum seekers and trafficked persons lead precarious lives that are largely invisible both to institutions and to citizens and residents in the countries they work in.

Stephen Castles argues that a dominant political discourse is one that sees migration as a problem (2010). States have been key actors in this dynamic through national and transnational policy regimes of migration control often with the outcome of exploiting temporary migrants without adequate or decent protections and access to basic rights. Castles makes an argument not only for inter-disciplinary approaches to theorizing migration and to shaping migration policy, but importantly for situating theories of migration within more general theories of social change and social transformation. If we look at processes of global change that affect all peoples and societies – though in distinct ways – human mobility is an important aspect of this change.

The workshop brings together academics from interdisciplinary backgrounds who are active in research and public policy debates on migration processes including the regulation of borders, modes of belonging and entitlements, social and cultural networks, human rights and the interaction of these issues with local populations.

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Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
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