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Istanbul, Turkey - October 9 & 10, 2015

Platform on International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), Working Group on Borders and Detention
 
The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), invited Executive Director, Cathleen Caron, to participate in a meeting of their Working Group on Borders and Detention, a two-day gathering held in Istanbul, Turkey. PICUM is a network of mostly European individuals and organizations working to ensure social justice and human rights for undocumented migrants. PICUM Executive Director, Michele Levoy asked Cathleen to work with their members to explore the applicability of portable justice in the European detention and deportation context. Currently there are an estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants in Europe. Due to a rapidly changing political landscape, increasing numbers are facing deportation from Europe and they are leaving various legal issues behind - from stolen wages to unaddressed abuses in detention centers.
 
Cathleen ran a five-hour workshop to lay out how Global Workers Justice Alliance delivers portable justice, the right and ability of a worker to access justice in the country of employment even after returning to the country of origin, through the Global Workers Defender Network model. With 15 participants from 10 countries (mostly countries of destination), it was challenging to think about applying portable justice in such a varied context.  
 
In the first half of the session Cathleen spoke about why workers return home in the North and Central American context and the variety of issues they leave pending behind, such as labor rights violations. She then asked the group a series of questions to have them start identifying the need in the context of their work. Stories of abuses that went unchallenged emerged as the advocates described how it was difficult to address these cases when the victims leave the country. One participant from the Czech Republic recounted a case of Vietnamese workers who ended up being victims of labor trafficking while planting pine trees in her country. The case fell apart because the workers were too intimated to speak up and the workers consequently scattered. 
 
The conversation then shifted to how to apply portable justice to their work.  Cathleen shared key assumptions that had to be in place for her to launch the Global Workers Defender Network in the North and Central American context.  First, the rule of law must function well enough in the county of employment.  If citizens cannot achieve justice for work place abuses, migrants certainly will not. Second, organizations in the country of employment must be in place to defend migrants. If there is no entity to move forward a case, then victims have little chance for justice. Third, the law in the country of employment must allow for absentee representation. If a worker is not legally permitted to pursue cases from their home country, then portable justice is not possible. A very interesting, and at times sobering, discussion ensued on whether those conditions existed in Europe.  Despite some level of unity on the regional level, Europe is still full of differing legal schemes on the national level, which results in a checkerboard of access to justice challenges. For example, in Belgium lawyers are not permitted to work for NGOs because they must be “independent.”  The result is that the court appointed lawyers have little interest or expertise in labor and poorly serve the exploited migrants.   
 
The feedback for the half-day session was overwhelmingly positive. The European colleagues, like many others around the world, are fiercely and courageously defending migrants rights. The experience to share our portable justice model and consider it in another context was a tremendous opportunity. There was agreement that this was only the first step of what will be an ongoing collaboration.  Global workers require global justice.  We can achieve this by working across borders and across regions to ensure that good practices are shared, improved, and applied. Working together, global justice is possible.

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