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Harrison Ellis - Blog 3: Migrants Rights Violation Reporting System (MRVRS)

Harrison Ellis - Blog 3: Migrants Rights Violation Reporting System (MRVRS)

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Blog post
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During my time at MFA, I have been extremely fortunate to help enter cases using the Migrant Rights Violation Reporting System (MRVRS). I would like to provide some information on the system’s background, workings, strengths, challenges, and what the system has taught me about the use of communication, technology, and international law in the context of migration and human rights.

Background:

MRVRS was developed by the MFA secretariat in 2006. Previously, each member organization had their own documentation system, which entailed a need for all members in the network to use a uniform and simplified documentation method. MFA members looked for best practices studied and patterned the system after Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems, International (HURIDOCS).

HURIDOCS was formed in 1982 by the Ford Foundation responding to the need for civil society to utilize information and communication technology to document and trend cases of human rights abuse. HURODOCS is an open, informal, decentralized network of human rights organizations that combine their expertise to develop common standards for recording, documenting, and exchanging information and does trainings with other NGOs on the subject. Further information on the history and activities of HURIDOCS reads here

MFA members advised that the secretariat devise a simplified method modeled after the HURIDOCS system that would reflect the cases handled and documented by all MFA members and increase the uniformity of the network. MFA condensed the HURIDOCS system in developing the MRVRS, which works similarly to HURIDOCS except focusing specifically on the human rights of migrant workers

After the conception of MRVRS, MFA did three trainings. The first in 2006 in Indonesia, the second in 2007 in Hong Kong, and the third in 2010 in Manila which was part of the Rapid Response Training for migrant workers in situations of distress. Due to a lack of space for the participants and a lack of resources, the trainings had to be held in an internet café. MFA continues to do trainings with individual members on a request basis. In 2011, MFA brought in the EU Project, a partnership between the EU, DCA, and MFA, broadening the scope of MRVRS in the context of India.

Migrants Rights Violation Reporting System (MRVRS)

MRVRS is an online database tool developed by the MFA network to record and manage information on migrants’ rights violations in Asia. MRVRS seeks to elevate ground-level action to influence change at the policy level by converting qualitative data (case files, narratives, histories) into quantitative data. This enables MFA to generate trends of rights violations, which supports its advocacy work, information campaigns, and lobby work.

The system requires entering case data organized into categories including:

  • Event description;
  • Country where violation occurred;
  • Migration stage (pre-departure, entry-stay-exit, or return);
  • The basic rights violated, based on international human rights and labour rights laws
  • A summary of the violation;
  • Individual victim (biography and employment sketch);
  • Group victims  (collective name, gender mix, nationality mix);
  • Perpetrator (short bio, group/org, involvement, personality);
  • Source (primary, secondary, reliability); and
  • Administrative details (date reported, last update, date resolved).

Strengths:

Our partner organizations have so many cases of migrants’ rights violations that can be harnessed and used at the policy level to effect change. Following are some aspects of the MRVRS that expedite this process.

  • MRVRS is user friendly for those entering the case information and those analyzing the data it produces because it categorizes the rights violations.
  • MRVRS converts qualitative data into quantitative data, allowing civil society to demonstrate that that these rights violations are not just isolated incidents but recurring trends that need to be addressed.
  • MRVRS provides a space for anecdotes, allowing some room for the migrants’ individual stories. It thus contains both the statistics and human sides of the migrants’ rights violations.
  • It automatically links rights violations to an international convention (trafficking violates the Prohibition of Slavery, forced labour and trafficking in persons: UDHR4, CEDAW6, CMW11). 
  • As the conventions relevant to migration and provided, users no longer have to look up the specific rights that have been violated.

    Considerations:

    Notable considerations of MRVRS are as follows.

    As different member organizations will have different focuses, their documentation styles will reflect their distinct focus. For example, an organization dealing with trafficking will ask different questions and collect data on cases differently than an organization focusing on labour migration.

    • Linguistic barriers: Member organizations have many documented cases of abuse, but many of these are handwritten in their local languages. To be entered into the MRVRS, cases must be translated into English, which is difficult if those using the system are not fluent.
    • MRVRS requires a basic understanding of international treaty bodies and the rights-based perspective, which is often beyond the scope of grassroots organizations that dedicate their efforts to respond to the immediate needs of migrants who are in distress.
    • In forming rigid categories for rights abuses, MRVRS is often unable to correctly categorizes and match the migrants’ rights violation(s) as many migrants experience rights violations that are overlooked in the MRVRS.
    • As the system has not been revised since its inception, it does not account for the 2011 ILO Convention 189: Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Convention contains many provisions on the protection of domestic workers not yet included in the MRVRS.
    • MRVRS does not have categories for situations facing migrants that have recently been mainstreamed, most notably the issues of stranded migrants and the detention of undocumented migrants.
    • As MRVRS requires the use of technology, it can be difficult to navigate the workings of the database (setting up an account and creating a password).
    • Rescuing migrants at airports, running shelters, and providing counseling services leaves little time to sit at a computer and enter information into the system.
    • Organizations are often unable to provide certain information on such as perpetrators’ names and contact information. This may be because organizations lack the resources to investigate each case or because the organizations are worried about the implications on inputting this information such as threats from recruitment agencies and employers.
    • Even I have difficulty working with the system considering all of the above. I can only imagine it being twice as difficult for organizations using the system.

     Working with MRVRS

    While MFA’s goal is to have members entering cases themselves, MFA encourages those who lack this capacity to they send the cases to the secretariat for entry (usually through email). The cases I have reviewed, analyzed, and entered have all been in the context of Indian migrants from Andra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala working in the Gulf. The cases I have entered have all been sent from the MFA members including Migrants Rights Council (MRC), National Domestic Workers Movement (NDWM), Migrant Forum in India (MFI), the Centre for Migrant Studies (CMS), and the Indian Social Club (ISC).

    On a personal level, MRVRS allows me to see first hand the cases of rights violations that the member organizations deal with and the grassroots level. Organizations or individuals can register and set up an MRVRS account and submit violation reports.   Most cases are emailed to the secretariat by members, parliamentarians, and even migrants themselves. Analyzing the cases has involved tracking the emails exchanged and forwarded between migrants, civil society, parliamentarians, and consular officials. It’s so interesting to see how the cases make their way across the world from the migrants working in the Gulf, to our members in India, to parliamentarians, and then to MFA for entry. It really is a fascinating insight into the mechanisms of migrants’ rights protection and the use of technology and communication to influence policy from outside the public sphere. Tracking the cases shows whether the case has been resolved or not. 

    It is great to see the passion of some parliamentarians who make use of their strategic position of power to pressure consular officials and the governments of host countries to respond to all of the different situations faced by Indian migrant workers in the region. By applying relevant international human rights laws and conventions to each violation, the process has enabled me to experience first hand the workings of international law and increase my understanding of how civil society uses international law to shape policy at the national level. In conclusion, MRVRS allows me to see the amazing work done by member organizations in collecting, managing, and handling cases of migrant workers’ rights violations.

    By entering cases into the MRVRS, MFA is channeling the work of the members up to the high level. However, there is no capacity building in this and members miss out on learning about the rights-based model. Also, as I am the one entering the cases, it is me who is learning about international treaty-bodies and the rights-based model.  As I am an intern, that knowledge will be effectively lost when my placement is over rather than kept within the organization or disseminated throughout the network. I would really like to transmit the knowledge I have gained at MFA in this context to the grassroots level, thus contributing to MFA’s larger capacity building process.