Researchers urge boycott of migration conference slated for China

The Star on our petition:

As Canada struggles to thaw its frosty relationship with China, academics and researchers are boycotting the world’s largest conference on migration, settlement and diversity to be held in Beijing.

The group has launched an online petition urging that the 2020 International Metropolis migration conference be relocated to a country other than China, due to its poor human rights record: the repression of the Muslim Uighur and Tibetan minorities, threats to Hong Kong’s legal and judicial independence, and the detention of foreign nationals, including Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Canada currently has a travel advisory for China urging people to exercise a high degree of caution due to “the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws” as well as one for Hong Kong because of the ongoing massive anti-government protests. So far, more than 150 academic researchers and other migration experts have signed the petition.

“If Canadian academics and policy-makers, as well as those from other countries, do not participate, it sends a signal that the regime cannot credibly claim to promote academic freedom or have inclusive policies around multiculturalism, immigration or diversity,” said Dalhousie University sociology professor Howard Ramos, who learned that Beijing would be the venue for next year’s conference in an email in late summer.

“Countries that host events on immigration and refugees should be ones that respect academic freedom and the rights of minorities,” he said. “Canada is a leading immigration country and Canadian experts are among the top in the field. A conference on immigration and refugees without them misses cutting-edge policy and scholarship.”

The conference is organized by the International Metropolis Network, made up of experts from around the world in migration and settlement policies as a platform where state officials, non-government organizations and researchers share ideas and discuss best policies to manage migration and integration.

A world leader in global migration, Canada was instrumental in the establishment of the international network of experts, with one of the organization’s three secretariats located at Carleton University. The event attracts as many as 1,000 participants and presenters a year and has been held around the world, including in Nagoya, Japan in 2016, the only time it was held in Asia.

Jan Rath, co-chair of the Metropolis International Steering Committee, said Metropolis has always been an “apolitical” body that believes in engagement and dialogue over isolation, and stands by the selection of the Beijing-based think tank, the Centre for China and Globalization, as the host of the 2020 conference.

Rath said they were aware of the “tense” relationship between Canada and China, adding that Beijing was picked after Berlin and Istanbul withdrew their bids.

“Canada is a free country and people are free to raise their concerns, but we want to make our points clear that we are not endorsing Chinese policies,” said Rath, a sociology professor at the University of Amsterdam. “The steering committee is co-hosting the conference with the think tank, which has no direct involvement of the Chinese government.”

However, Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with the Canadian immigration department, said the Centre for China and Globalization is effectively part of the Chinese government and he fears the conference will be used to legitimize Beijing’s policies and practices.

“It is highly likely that Chinese authorities will not permit a free and open exchange of ideas on relevant Chinese policy or practice. Foreign speakers will be discouraged from raising issues that might ‘offend’ the government,” said Griffith, who is among the initiators of the petition.

He said “minders” will be present to “monitor and intervene in the event of any real or perceived criticism.”

Source: Researchers urge boycott of migration conference slated for China

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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