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Event news: The Promised Land screens at the ICA

Anna miyoung Kim continues her work looking at the hidden costs of economic development with a film screening of The Promised Land. The screening is free, but registration is essential via [email protected].

The Promised Land

Human Rights of Migrant Workers
Köken Ergun | Kyongju Park | Santiago Sierra | Ekta Mittal and Yashiswini Raghunandan
Wednesday 26 August 2015, 2:00pm – 3:40pm
Institute of Contemporary Arts Private Film Theatre Cinema 2
The Mall, SW1Y 5AH

Promised Land

Although many countries tried to control the inflow of migrant workers and many international activists put enormous efforts to improve migrant workers’ working & living conditions, the number of migrant workers keeps increasing (ILO, International Labour Organization estimated 232 million migrant workers around the world in 2015) and their working & living conditions in destination countries haven’t been improved as proportionally as the number of workers increased. Often, migrant workers have been targeted for the exploitation of vicious employers due to their vulnerable legal and/or contract status and their human rights have been ignored and/or violated in many forms; marginalization, discrimination, sexual abuse, etc.

Migration of labour has been caused by various reasons; globalization, income inequalities, conflicts and climate changes according to ILO.

Globalization: Under the neo-liberalism myth, “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone”1, a lot governments around the world reached free trade treaties without considering the impact of “Free” trade. The free trade treaties often guarantees multinational companies’ the maximum penetration in the country’s economy, maximum profits and legal protection, maximum exploitation of the countries’ workers, and minimum regulation by and obligation to the countries where they operate.2 This inevitably destroys less economically developed countries’ economy and causes massive migration workers from the rural to the cities and to the borders.

Kyongju Park, Migrant Workers' Election Campaign Performance, 2004
Kyongju Park, Migrant Workers’ Election Campaign Performance, 2004

Income inequalities: Different standard of livings and wage disparities, due to the imbalance of international economic developments, also accelerated the migration of labour. Some governments of under privileged or developing countries’ even encourage their people to move to the developed countries to earn foreign currencies and to resolve their unemployment problems.

Conflict & climate changes: In Africa and East Europe, poverty caused by severe climate changes (draughts, desertification, flood etc.) or political disputes (wars, tribal or religious conflicts) are the main causes of migration of labour.

Migrant workers are definitely contributing the destination countries’ economic development by taking over difficult, dirty and/or often dangerous jobs, even destination countries’ labour avoid. Even with their obvious contribution to the local economy, why migrant workers are being exploited?

First of all, it is due to their unprotected legal status. Some migrant workers entered the destination countries without any legal permission; unlawful migrants. They became most vulnerable and easy target for exploitation by vicious employers. Since they will be expelled from the countries if their existence is noticed by the authorities, their working conditions can be deteriorated to the level of “Modern Slavery”.

Köken Ergun, Binibining Promised Land, 2010
Köken Ergun, Binibining Promised Land, 2010

For the lawful migrant workers, destination countries’ people are wary of losing their jobs although migrant workers took the jobs, they didn’t want with low wages and unequal working conditions. Politicians often use people’s wariness to win at the elections and it promotes nationalism, which could be deteriorated to racism and even xenophobia in worst case. Populist governments set up strict border controls, restrictive immigration laws & labour regulations on migrant workers.

Although migrant workers immigrated lawfully, comparatively vulnerable status with less protection and more restrictions eventually led to lower wages, human rights violation and exploitations and also increased the unregistered migrant workers.

Many NGOs and activists are working on resolving the violation of migrant workers’ human rights by unionizing workers and improving enforcement of labour laws. However, increasing public awareness on migrant workers’ human rights shall be the most fundamental and effective action above all activities. The objectives of this project and participating artists are to appeal to audiences to regard migrant workers as equal human beings instead of looking them with sympathetic eyes.

Curated by Anna miyoung Kim
Anna Art Project
RSVP [email protected]

  1. Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia, “What is Neoliberalism? A Brief Definition for Activists”, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. []
  2. Garrett Brown, “Why Immigrant Workers Are Coming to the U.S. and How We Can and Need to Work Together”, Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network. []

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