March 8th, 2021

University webinar focused on migrant activism

By Greg Bobinec on February 23, 2021.

The University of Lethbridge hosted their WSSS Webinar last week focusing on migrant activism and community-based research in a global pandemic and featuring scholars whose research bridges academia advocacy and community based work in migrant justice.
Ethel Tugohan, Canadian Research Chair in Canadian Migration Police, Impacts and Activism, and assistant professor in the Department of Politics at York University, started the webinar by sharing her experience as an immigrant and how perplexed she was about how migrant perspectives are routinely dismissed, leading into how her work with community engaged work has benefited communities over academia publications.
“I am part of a number of research partnerships with organizations such as Migrante Alberta, the Migrant Research Centre of Canada, in some of these projects we look broadly at policies and events such as COVID-19 have effective migrant communities,” says Tungohan. “When developing partnerships, what that means is, both me the researcher and the organizations in question identify academic and community agendas, then we discuss the different roles for different people in the project. Community-engaged entails a lot of conversations on checking in to make sure everyone’s voices are heard equally. This means community-based research takes a long time because of the need for mutual accountability, thus community engaged research is not often in sync with the traditional academic timeline where you are expected to gather data, write then publish. When you undertake community engaged work, like me, your priorities aren’t necessarily academic publications rather your priorities are how your work can benefit your community.”
Through the pandemic, Tungohan worked with a team on another project to examine the effects of COVID on migrant communities.
“We examined the experiences of homelessness among migrant populations in Edmonton,” says Tungohan. “What we found was that COVID-19 has increased immigration and vulnerability for migrants which then effect their ability to pay rent. Many of the people that we spoke to had to choose between paying for rent or paying for groceries. The pandemic just made their situation worse.”
Petra Molnar, lawyer and researcher specializing in migration, technology and human rights shared her story about the co-created project, the Migration and Technology Monitor: a collective of civil society, journalists, academics and filmmakers interrogating technological experiments on people crossing borders.
“Recently I have been looking at how new technologies of surveillance is being used against people on the move and communities crossing boarders both before the pandemic and now throughout the pandemic,” says Molnar. “There is this intention that we are seeing now between these long-standing historical systemic issues and these states of emergencies that we are finding ourselves in. I think what the pandemic is highlighting for us is priorities of what work gets done are shifting because the pandemic really does rein scribe powers of oppression very clearly, and it defines and redefines whose priorities count.”
Evelyn Encalada Grez, a traditional labour scholar, community-labour organizer, assistant professor in Labour Studies and Simon Fraser University, and co-founder of the award winning collecting, Justice for Migrant Workers, spoke about her work with migrant workers who were being taken advantage of during the pandemic with waved travel screenings and without proper protective gear.
“I saw how the Canadian state had continued on with the exploitation and undermining of the land of the most essential workers and the most vulnerable workers, which in this case I am referring to is Mexican, Caribbean, Indonesian, migrant workers that form part of Canada’s Foreign Worker Program,” says Encalada Grez. “I was back organizing around how workers were having to deal with this constant anxiety of having to be around the workplaces and then having to go back to their housing where they were always at risk of contracting COVID-19, and yes they did, over 1,300 workers became ill and three migrant workers died as a result.”
Continuing, Encalada Grez expressed her disappointment in the federal government for extending the migrant worker season and continuing to exploit their human and labour rights.
“The government extended the season of the Cultural Workers Program to grant employers more flexibility and more access to migrant workers from the global south, so we lost the moment, but the moment is still here, the pandemic is continuing,” says Encalada Grez. “We need to acknowledge that migrant workers are fully human and deserving to be protected of their human rights, for labour rights.”
As the pandemic continues and migrant justice continues to be an issue, Encalada Grez, Molnar, and Tungohan continue to work at implementing more community based work, migrant activism, and international advocacy for priority shifting more migrant and minority communities. 

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