How migrants can participate in their own advocacy

Churches Witnessing with Migrants helps amplify voices and broaden solidarity

by the Rev. Cathy Chang, Susan Krehbiel and Amanda Craft | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Marvin Toquero holds a sign on behalf of Churches Witnessing with Migrants. (Photo by Susan Krehbiel)

NEW YORK ­— Last week, migrants and migrant advocates, working together as Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM), met for its 11th annual international consultation in New York City. The event was a prelude to the United Nations International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) focused on answering the question, “how do migrants participate meaningfully and effectively in their own advocacy and solidarity?”

The review forum follows nearly two years of regional consultations leading up to this week-long meeting

The Rev. Cathy Chang, a mission co-worker in the Philippines since 2015, said migrants have raised serious concerns that they had not been given adequate opportunities to engage in the regional consultations or the formal review taking place this week.

“The true measure of its success can only be understood by its impact on the lives of migrants themselves,” said Chang. “This is what makes the participation of organizations like Churches Witnessing with Migrants so important.”

The Rev. Cathy Chang and her husband, Juan Lopez, have been mission co-workers in the Philippines since 2015. Here they’re pictured with their daughter Aurelie. (Contributed photo)

CWWM was involved in two key events — the CWWM 11 International Consultation and the Grassroots Refugee and Migrants Forum. Both events offered opportunities for migrant leaders to share their experiences and concerns, offering mutual support and encouragement.

The key concerns by the migrant groups included the need to make more concrete the commitments by governments into actual laws and practices with real life application and the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic on migrant communities, as well as the need for migrants to be included in local and national policy development and evaluation.

CWWM is an international tripartite network of migrants, migrant-serving organizations and faith communities. The organization’s secretariat is based in the Philippines, where Chang volunteers with program planning and liturgical resources. CWWM was created in 2010, the same year Manila hosted the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD).


A group photo of representatives the CWWM network: Eni Lestari, International Migrants Alliance: Front row, Ka Mei Lau, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Antonio Arizaga, Frente Unido de Immigrantes Ecuatoriano; Karsiwen, KABAR BUMI, Mandeep Singh Bela, Union Network of Migrants. Susan Krehbiel back row, right. (Photo by Photo by Giovana Oaxaca, ELCA)

Faith communities from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and Migrante International launched the platform in contrast to the prevailing narrative among countries including the Philippines, that migration is a tool for development.

The United Nations adopted the first-ever Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2018. Included in the compact’s provisions was the four-year review process called the International Migration Review Forum. CWWM with regional forums in Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and North America, in different stages of development, has created opportunities for Chang to introduce Asia-based colleagues to colleagues of the PC(USA) Migration Roundtable. Although the pandemic restricted many face-to-face events and narrowed civic spaces against migrants, CWWM has continued to find ways to bring together migrants and migrant advocates, amplifying their concerns about challenges such as social exclusion, discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

In early 2022, Chang contacted Susan Krehbiel, chairperson of the PC(USA)’s Migration Roundtable, and associate for refugees and migrants with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, who invited CWWM colleagues to participate in the forum. Also participating was Amanda Craft, manager of Advocacy in the Office of Immigration Issues in the Office of General Assembly, and Sue Rheem, Presbyterian Representative at the United Nations.

In a letter to Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, the 100 participants gathered for the Grassroots Migrants and Refugees Forum called on the secretary general to meet in person to “relay our concerns on the current IMRF including the difficulties that grassroots migrants experienced. We are hoping that our meeting can also come up with concrete steps that will ensure that the voice of the grassroots will be recognized, our contributions are given importance, and our lived experiences taken in serious consideration on migration discussions.”

The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, also signed this letter on behalf of the denomination.

Susan Krehbiel

Krehbiel was a speaker at the multi-stakeholder hearing on May 16. In her remarks, she said:

“As Presbyterians, we believe in the intrinsic worth of each human being, created in the image of God.  The act of migration does not change that. Therefore, governments have a responsibility to ensure that their policies uphold the most basic human right to be treated with dignity. And the safe and humane treatment of migrants must extend to their lives in the destination country, not only along the migration route. Only by hearing from migrants themselves can we understand the impact of policies on them. We encourage national governments to be more committed and creative in how to involve migrants in their national policy planning and evaluation.”

At a roundtable discussion that was also part of the formal review, Rey Asis, program coordinator for PC(USA)’s global partner, Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, also spoke.

“Mutual aid and support among migrants and civil society groups manifest: one, the willingness of the community to help those in distress; and two, the lack or absence of government support for migrants and marginalized sectors of society,” Asis said. “The latter points to a major challenge that migrants experience in the limited framework of migration governance: the lack of accountability of state authorities. Migration is not only about movement but is about people. We are talking about the lives of millions of migrants who are and should be the principal stakeholders of any process that talks about migration. For as long as migrants are relegated to token participation at best, cooperation on migration will fall short of its right-based ideal.”

Mervin Toquero of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, another PC(USA) global partner, and the head of the CWWM secretariat, participated in the multi-stakeholder hearing as well, saying the presence of grassroots migrants is a must and “should never be second guessed.” He said the IMRF should allow a significant number of migrants in deliberations and discussions.

Joanna Concepcion, chairperson of another PC(USA) partner, Migrante International in the Philippines, echoed the sentiments of her colleagues.

“We cannot stress enough that any review of the progress of the implementation of the GCM should prioritize and place at the front and center the voices, experiences, aspirations and demands of grassroots migrants. We, as grassroots migrants, are leading our own organizations, campaigns and programs to defend our rights and affirm our dignity.”

Amanda Craft

Craft has played an instrumental role in the discussions.

“Migration is a part of the human experience, which why biblical texts reinforced the need to care for and treat equally those who reside in another part of the world. It is their voice and their experience that should be at the center of decision-making processes that directly impact them,” Craft said. “As a church body, I hope we can continue to join in to magnify their voices to ensure lawmakers hear their thoughts, concerns, and asks and act accordingly and responsibly.”

Leah Brooks, a Young Adult Volunteer, and Ivy Lopedito at the Ministry at the United Nations planned the chapel service for the Church Center at the UN and those attending the Review Forum, which highlighted CWWM testimonies specifically from Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan.

“After listening in on the IMRF proceedings last week, I am feeling so hopeful about the work of the PC(USA) surrounding migration. The dedication of the PC(USA) to this issue is only growing, and I cannot wait to see how we continue to include migrant voices in these necessary conversations.”

To learn more, contact the Office of Immigration Issues at

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