Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna

Role: Director/Chair at Our Journey/Migrant Forum in Asia
Active in Country: Malaysia
DTP Alumna, Trainer, Partner: 2014 Migrant Workers Program - Dubai as a participant


“There is no other comprehensive human rights training programme that is activist centred, practical and interactive”

Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna first participated in the 2014 Migrant Workers Program in Dubai. She has since returned to train on many DTP courses, and was also a key partner and driving force behind the 2017 DTP/MFA Capacity Building Program ‘Advocating for the Rights of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’. After many years working on human rights issues for the Malaysian Bar Council, she left and founded Our Journey, working with all migrant communities from South Asia and South East Asia on issues such as detention of undocumented workers and labour rights violations. In 2019, Sumitha was elected as the Chair of Migrant Forum in Asia (DTP’s key partner).

Sumitha participated in the DTP training programs with the goal of obtaining a better understanding of the migration policies of countries of origin, and the strategies to implement policies addressing migrant workers’ rights in countries of origin and destination.

Sumitha uses the training and knowledge she gained during the DTP training programs to help migrant workers fight for justice, compensation and representation and has seen many successes as a result of her advocacy. 

Sumitha sees the value of capacity building and investing in training human rights defenders.She worked with others in Malaysia to guide an innovative DTP capacity building program in Malaysia through 2017/18. This program brought together a diverse range of Malaysian advocates from women’s, human rights, trade-unions, and faith-based organisations together with representatives of migrant community organisations. 

Sumitha has enjoyed being able to engage with DTP as a participant, trainer and partner, noting that she has both gained and shared knowledge. The 2017 training program led to the establishment of an active network, that uses WhatsApp group for case referrals, advice, support, the sharing of knowledge and event details relating to migration issues. She points to the following outcomes of their work following the training:

  • More engagement on policy discussions with the Ministry of Human Resources following the change in government in 2018;
  • We have been consulted in law reform and development of laws related to migrants, e.g. the Draft regulation on domestic workers and the preparation of the 8th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML);
  • More engagement with and support from the diplomatic missions of migrant source countries in assisting the migrants, e.g. in issuing documents for exit pass to repatriate. In the past, foreign embassies in Malaysia were reluctant to assist undocumented migrants or those who came through irregular routes;
  • More migrants are coming forward with their cases indicating more effective outreach by the Malaysian Bar and NGOs outreach and that migrants know their rights better;
  • The migrant community are more organised, making it more possible for Malaysian civil society to work with them, and making them more effective in engaging their diplomatic missions, Malaysian government officials and employers; and
  • Employers respond more positively in resolving the cases of migrant workers amicably.

Sumitha has contributed to reviews of the DTP/MFA capacity building strategies and would like to see DTP organising more national level-capacity building programs. She also really sees the value of DTP’s focus on Business and Human Rights – and building links and advocacy capacity along migration corridors.


Profile written February 2020