Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This dispatch from John Peng L’19 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers. Peng was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to the United States at the age of six. He attended Columbia University in New York, majoring in history with a specialization on the global history and memory of World War II. At Penn Law, he is involved with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and International Human Rights Advocates (IHRA). Before coming to Penn Law, he was a NYC Urban Fellow and worked for the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. After law school, he hopes to pursue a career in international law, diplomatic relations, and foreign policy.
This summer, I am working with the Center for Migration and International Relations (CMIR), a local NGO based in Kathmandu, Nepal, as an International Summer Human Rights Fellow (ISHRF). Introduced to the organization by Professor Sarah Paoletti, I was drawn by CMIR’s position at the forefront of labor migration advocacy within the South Asian nation, and its unwavering commitment towards protecting the rights of Nepalese migrant workers and their families. I have had an invigorating experience with the organization and am excited for the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from my colleagues at CMIR.
Consisting of migrant rights researchers, activists, returning migrant workers, and interns, both domestic and international, CMIR utilizes a three-pronged approach to aid migrant workers. First, the Center provides immediate legal and practical assistance to distressed workers and their families. Working with partners within Nepal and abroad, the organization coordinates the rescue and return of trapped migrant workers, facilitates compensation negotiations with foreign employers and Nepalese government agencies, and arranges reintegration and livelihood support for migrant communities.
Second, CMIR studies global labor migration and issues policy recommendations to the Nepalese government. Coupled with in-depth analyses of existing international and regional legal instruments, CMIR converses with consular representatives and returning migrants to better understand the challenges faced by Nepalese workers — particularly in Malaysia and Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) states, where over fifteen-hundred workers depart for each day.
Third, CMIR conducts educational and informational campaigns within Nepal, especially in rural districts where labor migration is widespread and prospective workers lack full awareness of the risks involved with foreign employment. In 2016, the organization initiated a scholarship program to fund children within families of deceased migrant workers so they may complete their secondary education level.
My main project for the summer is to author a policy paper on the legal mechanisms and diplomatic deficiencies behind the detention of Nepalese migrant workers. In June, I was invited by the South Asia Partnership (SAP) to present my preliminary findings at the Nepal-Bangladesh Youth Conclave (LEAP Forum), a collaborative initiative between the two countries to link youth leaders with prominent government officials and foster regional cooperation. After the conference, I will travel to various migrant communities and interview returning workers on their detention experiences. In addition, I will engage with embassy representatives stationed in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Kuwait City, and Riyadh to gain insight into the process for relieving detained migrant workers.
Complementing my research, I provide legal assistance on ongoing cases and will participate in poll-monitoring efforts for the local elections scheduled for the end of the month — the first to be held in the country in twenty years.
Through my work with CMIR, I have been excited to apply the knowledge and skills that I worked on during my first year at Penn Law. International Law supplied me with a valuable overview of international and regional human rights treaties, as well as creative legal paths toward achieving positive outcomes for my individual migrant workers. Legal Practice Skills, meanwhile, helped hone my ability to produce persuasive legal writing, productive client counseling, and effective oral advocacy.
Kathmandu is hectic at all times of the day. From the motorcyclists weaving down the streets, to the laughter of kids rushing to set up the wickets for an after-school game of cricket, to the wafting aromas from spice stands, every walk is filled with an extravagant array of sights, sounds, and smells. Yet, the city is blanketed with a pervasive and indescribable sense of calm. At its core, the city is made up of a joyous populace that, despite its recent misfortunes — the aftereffects of the April 2015 earthquake remain in plain view — recognizes that there is and will always be much worth celebrating. I am grateful to have been welcomed into Nepal with open arms and am energized by the country’s unrelenting optimism for progress.
- John Peng