“We demand that the governments of the sending and host countries uphold our dignity, rights and wellbeing, take our issues and concerns as women, as migrant workers and that of our families. We are human beings, not commodities. Our lives, our future, and that of our families and our homelands are at stake.” —taken from the Joint Statement of Domestic Workers on the Occasion of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (July 2007)
The program has begun when I arrived, having faced some hurdles in securing a VISA. Since Filipinos are one of the most “mobile” people in this era of neo-liberal globalization, and present in more than 100 countries as migrant workers, one can only obtain a VISA to Mexico after some scrutinizing. I find it ironic though that Mexico lays very stringent migration rules for Filipinos, since Mexico itself is topping in world’s three greatest recipients of migrants “dollar remittance”, including Philippines and India; and also one of the biggest “labour exporter”.
I was personally excited to go to Mexico. Philippines, is sometimes being touted as a “Latin American” country displaced in the heart of the Asia Pacific. We feel a weird sense of affinity to South Americans, perhaps because of the historical common thread that bind us, and the solidarity is common having same Conquistadores that has plundered our nations and that we had struggled from.
Not only this, Mexico and Manila, had had the ancient link because of the oppressive Acapulco Trade of Spain, which also germinated the first workers and Filipino migrant workers. The first Filipino migrants fled the oppression in the Galleons or ships of conscripted (slave) labour from Manila to Mexico route, farther to North America. Today, Mexico has become a dangerous ground and vast transition point, desperately taken by millions of people from the rest of Meso-America and South America hoping to cross the USA.
Mexico City was extra chilly during the entire “Migration, Movements and Justice” global program this September. The co-participants coming from different SCMs in 16 countries around the globe, got a relief when we visited the Teotihuacan Pyramids, which were magnificently standing now, despite the centuries of literal entombment by the colonial “civilization” which the invading Europeans imposed during the Conquest. The visit to the Teotihuacan Pyramids has become thought-provoking for me, rather than mere sight-seeing.
As gleaned from history, these Conquistadores would plant the seeds of oppression in many countries and built unviable and oppressive structures, which until now, have left an irreparable system of inequality, “proxy” ethnic and internecine wars and conflicts in the colonized countries. Most, than not, the perpetuation of this same type of unjust system in the modern times has become the “prodding” reasons of movement and displacement of people. Aggravated by globalization, underdevelopment, foreign plunder of natural resources, empire domination, the people in most poor countries suffer chronic social and economic inequalities that force many to migrate.
In the program, I shared the reality in the Philippines, having as many as 3, 400 Filipinos leaving the country everyday as Overseas Filipino Workers, not out of sheer choice but of compulsion, of the basic instinct to survive because of the untold poverty, inequalities and injustice prevailing in my country. This situation of “forced migration” is common in many poor under-developed countries.
Do-hun Lee, from KSCF shared the situation of migrant workers in Korea who struggle against unfair labour practices from their employers, poor working and safety conditions in factories and especially the inhumane situations faced by undocumented workers coming from different part of Asia Pacific.
Participants from Europe, USA and Canada also shared the plight of migrants who are at the receiving end of the systemic racism in these regions. The youth, women and immigrants of different nationality in these regions are the hardest hit by the ongoing capitalist crisis, as they are exploited for cheaper wages. Immigrants, are used by the governments and capitalist lobbyists as the reasons for the employment unrest, and are pitted against other local workers in the form of chauvinism and neo-fascism.
However, the continuing protests of migrant workers opposing unjust migration and labor policies, like the millions of protests of Latin American, Chinese and Filipino workers and others in the USA showed that solidarity and action can frustrate anti-migrants and anti-workers policies.
The conference was not only replete with discussions. There was also significant underpinning of Biblical stories and reflections on migration as an age-old phenomenon; underscored the Abrahamic tradition of hospitality like those depicted in the stories of Ruth and Naomi; and the central admonition from the Gospel to do justice, especially to strangers.
Current discourse now of the governments like the in Global Forum on Migration this July, about how migration can be a tool for “development”, must be seen with critical eye. They touted the migrants’ contribution in the “development” of their home countries through sending of “dollar remittances”. However, this lip-service tries to deflect on the many unjust conditions majority of migrant workers experience in the host countries as well as in the home countries—the very reason of their departure.
For example, the “dollar remittances” has become the buoyant agents of economic downturn of poor countries, artificially filling the financial deficits and swinging the negative imbalance of trade. Countries like the Philippines, has totally become dependent on this and has exploited the desperation of people to look for opportunities abroad through the governments devastating “Labor Export Policy” (LEP). The LEP obfuscates the real unemployment problem in many underdeveloped countries and the feudal oppression in the countryside, and is hyped as the saving grace.
In the final analysis, we must go home to the very reason of “forced migration” and not be blinded by the subterfuge of governments through the use of human labor for export. The greater challenge in all the discourse about migration is to put in centrality the MIGRANT herself or himself as a human being whose dignity must be restored.
The conference promised solidarity actions and further studies involving the real situation of migrants all over the world as the litmus paper of all this discourse and to “critique the global economic system, international financial institutions and economic structures as the major causes of migration injustice and to look for just alternatives”.