Wednesday, December 17, 2008
On International Migrants Day: U.S. Immigrant Rights Groups Call for End To Immigration Raids, Urge Humanitarian Policies
December 18, 2008
* Laura Rivas (510) 465-1984 ext. 304 firstname.lastname@example.org
* Colin Rajah (510) 465-1984 ext. 305 email@example.com
On International Migrants Day:
U.S. Immigrant Rights Groups Call for End To Immigration Raids,
Urge Humanitarian Policies
(Oakland,CA) Immigrant rights groups urged today, International Migrants Day (December 18), that the U.S. government should adopt humanitarian policies and practices in the treatment of immigrants. The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) asserted that although well-publicized raids at work-sites have dominated immigration news this past year, a majority of persons have been deported through other means - and at the expense of their rights and physical well-being.
Following another year of monitoring enforcement operations and gathering information from immigrant workers and communities, NNIRR has concluded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely violates and ignores the due process rights of persons they question for immigration status.
Information from 100 reports and 115 reviews of raids showed that DHS has continued to use overwhelming force, including physical and mental abuse, in coercing immigrants to sign away their rights for almost instant deportation or detention.
"We need an end to these immigration raids," declared Arnoldo Garcia, director of NNIRR's Immigrant Justice and Rights program. "It will be up to the new Administration and Congress to ensure that humanitarian polices and practices are put into place. Until that can be done, detentions and deportations should also be suspended to bring some relief to immigrant families and communities from this shameful human rights crisis."
DHS' Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported almost 350,000 persons from the United States in fiscal year 2008; over two-thirds had no prior criminal record or convictions. Persons deported through worksite raids accounted for less than 2 percent of all ICE deportations, and from fugitive operations, 10 percent.
Meanwhile persons identified for deportation in local, county, and federal detention made up 63 percent or all deportations.
In one deportation case, Marvin Ventura, a Honduran immigrant detained at Steward Federal Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia was deported after ICE physically forced him to sign a form waiving his right to a hearing before an immigration judge and any opportunity to adjust status. An active member of his local church, Ventura is now separated from his wife and community in Little Robbins, Georgia.
Another immigrant who had lived and worked in the U.S. for 20 years, Rodrigo Caltenco, was arrested in Walden, NY, processed and transferred to a detention facility in Texas. There he was verbally threatened and intimidated into signing a form he did not understand. Two days later he was deported, leaving behind his wife, children, and grandchildren.
"Each person deported represents families that are torn apart, communities that are traumatized and economies that are disrupted," continued Garcia. "These patterns have seriously deepened under the Bush Administration and since 9/11, and we see grave repercussions in the current period."
Many of the immigration enforcement operations included the collaboration of local, county and state police and other public agencies.
A full report of the 2008 human rights monitoring effort will be published early next year. Last year's NNIRR report, "Over-Raided, Under Siege", found that DHS was subjecting immigrant and refugee communities to a form of "collective punishment," resulting in widespread violations of constitutional and human rights.
International Migrants Day was recognized by the United Nations in 2000 to commemorate the passage of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (commonly referred to as the Migrant Workers' Convention) on December 18, 1990.
Community groups around the country are marking the event with press conferences, candle-light vigils, cultural events and film-screenings in cities such as Laurel, MS; Tucson, AZ; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; and Seattle, WA.
To view a partial list of events as well as details and contact information for each, go to:
VERSION EN ESPANOL
Comunicado de Noticias
18 de Diciembre, 2008
* Laura Rivas (510) 465-1984 ext. 304 firstname.lastname@example.org
* Colin Rajah (510) 465-1984 ext. 305 email@example.com
En el Día del Migrante Internacional:
Grupos pro derechos migrantes en EEUU llaman por el cese de redadas migratorias,
Urgen políticas humanitarianas
(Oakland,CA) Grupos de derechos inmigrantes urgieron hoy, en el Día del Migrante Internacional (18 de Diciembre), que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos debiera adoptar políticas y prácticas humanitarianas en el tratamiento de las y los inmigrantes. La Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados (NNIRR, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights) afirmó que aunque las redadas en los lugares del trabajo son bien conocidas y dominaron las noticias sobre migración, la mayoría de personas han sido deportadas por otros medias – y al costo de sus derechos e integridad física.
Después de otro año de vigilar los operativos de control migratorio y recaudando información de trabajadores y comunidades inmigrantes, NNIRR ha concluido que el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS, Department of Homeland Security) rutinamente viola e ignora los derechos constitucionales de las personas que detienen para cuestionar sobre su condición migratoria.
Información extraida de 100 reportes y el repaso de 115 redadas muestran que el DHS continúa usando preponderantemente la fuerza, incluyendo el abuso físico y mental, in coercionando a inmigrantes a firmar y ceder sus derechos para deportarlos casi inmediatamente o encarcelarlos.
“Las redadas de DHS tienen que cesar," declaró Arnoldo Garcia, director del programa de Justicia y Derechos Inmigrantes de NNIRR. “Le tocará a la Administración nueva y al Congreso asegurar que se implementen políticas y practices humanitarias. Hasta que estas sean implementadas, las detenciones y las deportaciones deben ser suspendidas para proveer un poco de alivio a las familias y comunidades inmigrantes de esta vergonzoza crisis en derechos humanos.”
El Buró de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas de DHS (ICE, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deportó a casi 350,000 personas de los Estados Unidas durante el año oficail de 2008; más de dos-terceras partes de los deportados no tenían ningún previo historial o de convicciones criminal. Las personas deportadas a través de redadas en los lugares de trabajo representaron menos de 2 % (dos por ciento) de todas las deportaciones de ICE, y de operatives contra fugitivos, 10% (diez por ciento).
Mientras las personas identificadas para ser deportadas en cárceles locales, municipals, estatales y federales representaron hasta el 63% (sesenta y tres por ciento) de todas las deportaciones.
En un caso de deportación, Marvin Ventura, un inmigrante hondureño que fue detenido en el Centro de Detención Federal de Steward en Lumpkin, Georgia fue deportado después de ICE lo forzó físicamente a firmar un documento donde cedió su derecho a tener una audiencia con un juez de inmigración y cualquier oportunidad de ajustar su condición migratoria. Miembro activo de su iglesia local, Ventura ahora está separado de su esposa y su comunidad en Little Robbins, Georgia.
Otro inmigrant que vivió y trabajó en los EEUU por 20 años, Rodrigo Caltenco, fue arrestado en Walden, NY, procesado y transferido a centro de detención en Texas. Allí agents de ICE lo amenazaron verbalmente y lo intimidaron hasta que firmó un formulario que no entendía. Dos días después fue deportado, dejando atras a su esposa, hijos y nietos.
“Cada persona deportada representa familias que son destrozadas, comunidades que traumatizadas y economías que son trastornadas”, continuo García. “Estos patrones se han profundizado bajo la Administración de Bush y desde 9/11, y vemos sus graves repercusiones en el periodo actual.”
Muchas de las operaciones de control migratorio incluyeron la colaboración con entidades policíacas y otras agencies públicas locales, municipals, y estatales.
Un informe completo de los resultados del esfuerzo de vigilar y documentar los derechos humanos en 2008 serán publicados a principios del año nuevo. El informe de NNIRR del año pasado, “Redadas desmedidas, Comunidades asediadas, (“Over-Raided, Under Siege”) reveló que el DHS está sometiendo a comunidades de inmigrantes y refugiados a una forma de “castigo colectivo”, resultando en violaciones amplias de los derechos constitutcionales y humanos.
El Día del Migrante Internacional fue reconocido por las Naciones Unidas en el año 2000 para conmemorarar la aprobación de la Convención Internacional sobre la Protección de los Dferechos de Todos los Trabajadores Migratorios y Miembros de Sus Familias (conocida comunmente com la Convención sobre Trabajadores Migratorios) el 18 de Diciembre, 1990.
Grupos comunitarios alrededor del país están celebrando este evento con conferencias de prensa, vigilias nocturnas, eventos culturales y la proyección de documentales en ciudades como Laurel, MS; Tucson, AZ; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; y Seattle, WA.
Para ver una lista parcial de estos eventos asi como también los detalles e información de contacto para cada uno, vaya a:
Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
310 8th Street, Suite 303
Oakland, CA 94607
Tel (510) 465-1984 | Fax (510) 465-1885 | www.nnirr.org
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Priority Africa Network
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
I must admit, coming to Manila, I was convinced that the Africa agenda would be nowhere and participants from the region would be few – at least much fewer than last year in Brussels. Was I wrong. Not only was the process intentionally inclusive of Africa focused issues, but the were about 20 participants from Africa, about 3 times the size that was in Brussels, and they were all amazing people. [Right: Discussion the issues at the "Borders, Detentions & Deportations" workshop at the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights in the parking lot of the Malate Catholic Church gathering. All photos: Arnoldo Garcia]
Most came from West Africa where they shared issues of concern on the increase of migration, both internally within the continent and as the flows head north to the Meghreb and the Mediterraian. We were Anglophone and Francophone from Sub Sahara Africa where some worked directly with migrants in addressing livelihood and survival needs while others worked in policy advocacy. There were a few of us from diaspora organizations who are based in Europe and myself from the U.S. representing Priority Africa Network & the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Making the Connections on Africa & Migration:
From Colonialism to Frontex
Making the connections among us was an important first step towards forming a common agenda. We all realized that comparatively, there are major gaps in information when it comes to migration from Africa. We also work in different sectors and concerns which keeps us busy and with limited funding and it get challenging to address the multiple layers of issues we face.
The common analysis we shared was that none of what is happening now can be seen separate from the recent historic past of European colonialism of Africa. The current political and economic instability of Sub Saharan African countries can be traced back to the past and to the current system of bilateral and multilateral economic agreements (SAP etc.) which have not served the needs of the African people. Neither do we discount the responsibilities of African leaders for failure to protect the rights of their own citizens – and in many instances, for being the main cause for migration in the first place. [Right: Nunu Kidane speaking at the opening mass-up and march of the People's Global Action in Manila.]
While we all saw the national-level advocacy and policy change as necessary, it was equally important to work regionally and continentally – including regional bodies like ECOWAS, SADC and IGAD, as well as with non-governmental organizations.
Migration is becoming an issue of great concern globally, and Africa is no different in this respect. As we look at the trend of migration over the next decade, all indicators are that there will be a vast increase of people on the move in the coming years.
The level of desperation that is pushing people away from their homes is already high – environmental destruction, access to land and water resources, protection of rights and decreasing opportunities for young people – all contribute to push people to consider moving to Europe or elsewhere as destination points.
What is happening in European immigration policy needs to be exposed for the hipocracy and double standards. There is a great deal of xenophobia in the social and political attitudes of Europeans when it comes to non-European immigrants, and especially Africans – despite the fact that Africans have been going to Europe in large numbers for the past half century, they continue to be seen as difficult to assimilate. [Left: A delegation of migrant rights organizations and unions attending the governments' Global Forum on Migration and Development's "Civil Society Days" come to address the big labor-led march "SALAG," the Solidarity Action of Labor against the GFMD.]
To curb the migration of North and Sub Saharan Africans into their territories, European union enacted FRONTEX in October 2005 http://www.frontex.europa.eu/ This militarized system of ‘border control’ has broad mandates with little oversight and transparency in its overall program. It is a combination of national troops in coordination with local police and border control officials which go beyond what is considered official European territory of land and sea establishing permanent operations in countries like Senegal.
Frontex officers in full uniform gear are visible in even villages throughout the countryside where they gather data on migration patterns with the purpose of curbing and controlling the flow of migration of Africans. Furthermore, similar to Guantanamo Bay, there are detention centers off of islands and costlands of North Africa over which no one-country has clear jurisdisction and clearly no oversight of international organizations. Conditions, needless to say are deplorable and violations occur on a large scale.
All these and more are issues of concern that we hope the Africa group will continue to work on and expand on as we move ahead into the coming months. There are challenges, but there is commitment to tackle them with at lease very basic level of communication set up among the group in order to ensure that the links we have built continue to be strengthened in the coming months. [Left: At the Africa migration and human rights workshop at PGA, Manila.]
Information on our respective organizations and the work that we do will be posted on a page of the Migrants Rights International (MRI) website which will have English, French and Spanish versions.
We will use our collective voice to highlight issues of current concern and to prepare well ahead of the next annual gathering of the Global Fund for Migration and Development in Athens in 2009. We invite other groups to join us in our effort to expand the voices of migrants from Africa, especially groups that are already working on trade, resource extraction, debt cancellation, gender rights and other issues, to consider migration as a concern which links to their agenda. As always we are in gratitude for the folks in the Philippines and from Asia in general who welcomed us and stood in solidarity with us. [Right above: Listening to the dicussion at the PGA's Durban Process Review workshop.]
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
PGA Women's Action Day: Women Organizers Speak Out Against Abuses, Hundreds March for Women's Migant Justice
(Tuesday, October 28, 2008, Manila, Philippines) Some 2,000 mainly women with youth, elders and men, converged on the Plaza Olivia Salamanca to speak out and march as part of "Women Migrants' Action Day against the GFMD" as part of the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights.
Voices of Migrant Women
The women's day of action began with a press conference at a nearby restaurant where women representing migrant women workers organizations, unions and advocacy provided a panorama of the situation facing migrant women.
Sumiati (left), an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong and chair-woman of the Coalition for Migrant Rights, described how migrant women face systematic abuse and exploitation. CMA has documented the violation of the rights of domestic workers in Indonesia, Thai, Hong Kong and other countries.
Malou Acid (right) of the Kanlungan Centre Foundation's Center for Migrant Workers, who moderated the PGA Women's Day of Action press conference, said, "Women migrants are subordinated, they are more vulnerable to abuse by employers and face discrimination [at home and abroad]."
Babie Lloren (left), a Filipina who worked as an entertainer in Japan for twelve years, spoke out against the violence migrant women face in the workplace. Ms. Lloren, a survivor of violence herself, spoke of her own experience abroad and her return home, where migrant women like her are additionally stigmatized as "Japayuki," a derogatory term for Filipina women connoting prostitution. Ms Lloren founded "Batis Aware," a leadership and capacity building organization to provide development to migrant women to defend and protect their rights.
Malou Padilla (left), with Babaylan: Philippine Women's Network in Europe based in the Netherlands, explained how the migration of women is the result of deep social, cultural and economic factors that force women to go abroad. She said, "Women migrate as wives, refugees, as cooks, caregivers, nannies and other domestic employment. They struggle to alleviate the poverty and status of their families back home."
Ms. Padilla explained how migrant women encounter a host of problems in Europe. "Migrant women work in the lowest category, putting us in a vulnerable position. Many times the women work in private homes, where employers elude scrutiny and supervision with no regard for wages and conditions," she added. Ms. Padilla said employers hold on to the women's passports, pay extremely low wages, are subjected to many types of abuses -- with little or no opportunity for advancement across the spectrum.
Magdalene Kong (speaking, left), a consultant with Global Union Asia & Pacific, closed out the presentations. Ms. Kong, based in Singapore, stated that the Global Forum on Migration and Development has yet to include migrant women's rights agenda and move beyond a business-centric model; she appealed for inclusion of the migrant women's agenda in the GFMD.
Ms. Kong declared, "It is the responsibility of national governments to create jobs in the national economy so people have a choice." She explained that if the governments create jobs, migration lessens. Ms. Kong added that the GFMD is an informal, non-binding process that will reinforce the substandard conditions facing migrant workers, making them disposable and treated as commodities.
Ms. Kong said "Migrants leave home physically fit, but return hunched over. If a women gets pregnant, she gets fired and deported. Many migrant workers come back in boxes, as cargo.
Ms. Alcid closed the session by reminding everyone that the GFMD is only on venue for advocacy. "Migrant women workers will organize to expand their rights."
"Women Migrants are Not Commodities"
After a brief Q & A, a theater troupe presented a short skit showing the diversity of jobs and skills migrant women workers take abroad (see right). The actors represented migrant women as nurses, business, entertainers and home workers in different countries.
Migrant Women's Day of Action Against the GFMD,
March for Women's Power & Rights
When the mass-up for the "Migrant Women's Day of Action against the GFMD" began, almost as many police were present. Several hundred women began readying for the march a police announced that if foreigners participated in the action they would be arrested.
Undaunted, Philippine women were joined by "foreigners" -- women and men migrant rights organizers, human rights defenders, and others attending the People's Global Action conference and activities. The police were unable to intimidate anyone and then before the march began at 2:00 in the afternoon, its ranks had grow considerably. The tables were turned and now the police were outnumbered and outnumbered.
At least half of all the marchers were young women, teenagers and adults, including some of their male counterparts. Their enthusiasm, sheer joy and almost boundless energy matched that of the majority women marching. Together they gave the march the imprimatur of a movement that is unstoppable.
Manila Police Block Peaceful March, Again!
The police again did the dirty work of the governments meeting at the GFMD. The women's march took off in a high spirit that never wavered. After about ten blocks of boisterous marching, chanting, mugging for photographers, waving at passerbys in cars, motorcycles, jitneys, buses and walkers, the police again blocked another PGA march.
In spite of the commanding officer's jovial attitude, an image for the press more than anything else, the march was blocked by a few dozen police agents wearing helmets and shields.
The police were unmoved by the brave women leading the march. They listened to our leader's pleas and arguments. The captain did not budge; neither did the marchers.
Blocked by police from going forward, a jitney was pulled over and used as a raised platform for speakers to address the marchers.
Different women spoke out during the program being held hostage by Manila police. They spoke out against the travails and injustices women migrants endure in their host countries.
Women migrants do triple duties as transnational home workers: they take care of their families, many times the families of their employers and send remittances to take care of their families back home.
Sumaiti had pointed out earlier that, "For many of us, working abroad is not a choice but the only option left in order to feed our families and bring our children to school. Who would want to be separated from our families and enslave ourselves ina foreign cuntry if there are decent jobs and livelihood in our home country?"
In a statement issued by over 25 organizations for the "Women's Day of Action on Migration and Development," organizers emphasized the increasing "feminization of migration" and the demand for "people-centered, gender-just, sustainable development." The statement, "A Rights-Protect Present, and a Just and Empowered Future for Women Migrants" stated among other things:
"In the Philippines, and in several other Asian countries, women comprise the majority of persons migrating largely due to the dearth of viable employment oppportunities at home, but also because they are pushed by government to answer to the demand for women-oriented, often low-paying service sector jobs abroad. Even as so-called 'regular' workers, they are not guaranteed their rights, often accepting less pay and under stricter conditions...."
Calling it a "human rights catastrophe... of staggering proportions for women in migration...." the Women's Day of Action called on the Philippine government to uphold the United Nations "Declaration on the Right to Development," which binds signator governments to end the massive rights violations that result from the structures and economies created by different forms of neocolonialism, apartheid, racism, foreign domination and other neoliberal policies that force people, especially women, to migrate internationally in order to survive.
All the women blasted the GFMD and the governments for the plight of women migrants. A contingent of women put an X of masking tape over their mouths to denounce the silencing of their and other migrants's voices and agenda at the governments' proceedings at the GFMD.
After the Korean drum troupe's performance, the march turned left and headed back on the boulevard back to the Olivia Salamanca Plaza.
At the Plaza, hundreds of marchers gathered in a cricle to hear more speakers and a dramatic theater performance.
Here are images from the return march to the Plaza.
Women migrants are a new type of vanguard, a human vanguard that will make borders tremble and walls crumble....
The Korean drum troupe leads us back to the Plaza Olivia Salamanca (right).
Women from different parts of the world marched, defying the police threat of arrest (left).
Organizers draw the marchers in a circle around the Plaza's center. Then the program continued with speakers and a theater troupe highlighting the issues facing women migrants and the demand for human rights and justice.
[All photos by Arnoldo Garcia, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights]
Monday, October 27, 2008
Oct 25-26, 2008
The People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA), reached its programmatic climax with a candle-light protest march and the global opening ceremonies this past Saturday evening, and convergence workshops, reporting, and adoption of its Joint Declaration on Sunday.
What was particularly unique and inspiring about these days, was the convergence of migrant groups with labor unions, struggling side by side together. Just like back home in the U.S., the relationship between these movements in other parts of the world and especially in Asia, have been tenuous at best, and more often, opposed. But here, we have come together in the PGA, found common ground in our principles, and have joined forces to challenge the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and what it stands for.
After a long day of workshops and meetings, everyone who gathered in the Rajah Sulayman Park (the same one for which our permit had been revoked!) on Saturday evening, was rewarded with fresh energy from the sheer beauty of the scores of illuminating candles and the size and diversity of the crowd. A few turns around the park with chants in multiple languages (mostly raising the slogan for migrant rights), and we made our way to the school gym where we had been forced to hold our ceremonies instead of the park. (Click here for video clips of the march.)
After yours truly got to lead the crowd with some chants, an interesting and diverse slate of opening keynote speeches followed, comprised of the following:
- Gemma Adaba (based in New York) from the International Trade Union Confederation and the Global Unions Federation;
- Our own Mamadou Goita from the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternative Development (IRPAD) in Mali;
- Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN and former UN Human Rights Council President; and
- Our own Rex Verona from the Asian Migrant Center in Hong Kong.
Concluding the evening was another moving performance by a Japanese-Filipino youth group, who used interpretive dance to express their plight as victims of militarism and the exploitative sex industry.
On Sunday, another series of workshops were held along the themes of labor unions and human rights, trade and debt, and governance and migration policy. Unlike the self-organized workshops from previous days, these ones were jointly organized by alliances of unions, migrant groups, human rights organizations, women’s movements, anti-globalization and debt organizations etc. This mix allowed for rich debates and fresh insights and recommendations for joint actions.
All of these were then reported back and concluded with the adoption of the Joint Declaration which will be presented to the governments this Tuesday. To see a copy of the declaration, go to www.migrantwatch.org.
Tomorrow should be another exciting day with since it will be the first day of the so-called official civil society discussions, and plans for a massive protest march and rally to confront the GFMD. Look for a report on that back here.
And also, to get a vivid image of the candle-light march and other key talking points from these couple of days, don’t forget to visit NNIRR’s YouTube channel (www.YouTube.com/user/NNIRR1985) for video clips, and then return back here for more reports the rest of this week.
- Arnoldo Garcia
- Colin Rajah
(October 27, 2008, Manila, Philippines) Today, convened by unions under the banner of "Solidarity Action of Labor against the GFMD," (SALAG), thousands of members of national and international civil society, workers, migrants, trade unions, migrant rights and human rights groups, women's rights, lgtb rights groups, working class political parties, youth and families "massed-up" in Likagawa Bonifacio Park to march through the broad avenues of Manila under the blaring sun, a blessing of rain, and blocked in the end by a police cordon.
The GFMD is the governments' "Global Forum on Migration and Development," a process that is pushing policies to further subordinate migration and migrant labor to the predatory needs and demands of trade and capitalist development at the expense of the human rights of all migrants and workers.
Dozens of members of international delegations that came to the People's Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA) hopped on several jitneys and were taken to the SALAG mobilization.
When we arrived at Bonifacio Park (named after one of the Philippine's independence leaders) we joined hundreds of workers of all ages and genders, mostly dressed in black, who stood in the sun, some in the shade, hearing speakers, chanting slogans and waiting as contingents of unions and other organizations converged for the march.
A few days before the march, the Philippine government announced that in September they had reached their 2008 goal of sending one million Filipinos to work abroad! 3,000 Philippine women and men leave the country each day as "Overseas Foreign Workers." Once abroad they are treated as disposable workers, subjected to all kinds of vile treatment and abuse -- a fate shared by all international migrant workers.
Migrant workers are a gold mine for governments and corporations. Corporations and other employers exploit migrant workers as cheap labor, which can be fired or deported if they complain or demand their rights; and governments receive with open arms the billions of dollars in remittances migrants send home. The economy of the Philippines depends on migrant remittances and not only encourages but facilitates the export of Philippine workers with different skills and capacity just like any other commodity, except this "commodity" is human and saves both the economies of receiving and sending countries.
The governments' GFMD is debating the fate of millions of workers worldwide as it considers "managed migration" schemes to make easier to export and exploit migrant workers to the almost exclusive benefit of corporations and capital. The GFMD agenda poses a historic threat that would destabilize communities everywhere, making everyone a candidate to forced international migration to survive.
"Migrant Rights! Human Rights! Worker Rights! Human Rights!"
Organizers called the march the biggest one in years. Estimates of how many marched ranged from 2,000 to 5,000.
However large, the numbers did not speak to the unprecedented nature of the march: people from all over the world convening to join their Philippine brothers and sisters to demand rights for the displaced in any country they may find themselves in.
As the march headed out of Bonifacio Park, the drumming swelled, the voices of thousands joined in chorus after chorus of chanting for human rights. From gigantic signs to life-size puppets depicting migrant men and women, banners, signs everywhere, the human rainbow of colors, class, genders, age, languages, nationalities, communities all walking at their own pace with the same dream and vision.
The march was full of excitement, energy and hope. Children with their parents, young men and women, teenagers, elders, people from Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia all walked together several miles chanting, holding up banners and signs, to proclaim the demand for rights and integration of migrants worldwide.
The march stopped on the slope of the underpass. Why? The march was being blocked by police in riot-gear. The planned route of the march included several stops to deliver a joint message from SALAG, PGA and others to the GFMD. The march organizers tried to negotiate with the police to let the march continue but they did not budge.
Everyone waited patiently. Many of the marchers walked to the side of the boulevard where there were slivers of shade. Many sat where they stopped under the shade of their banners and signs. A group of youth danced with unbridled joy to the hard driving percussion rhythm of a group of drummers. The sun returned with all its powers but the march remained undaunted by the heat or the police. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of the marchers made most of us oblivious to the blasting sun.
"Do they expect migrant workers to eat only grass?"
At the head of the march, the sound truck was eventually parked across the boulevard; the police were just 50 feet behind it, also being cooked by the sun.
A migrant rights defender from Korea then walked up to the police, turned his back to them and began a long silent protest with his message to the GFMD and the rest of the world. With a red head-band, the man stood silently, almost stoically ignoring the tension of the cops blocking the march with threat of force.
He placed a large handful of grass in his mouth and another bunch in his left hand. In his right hand he held a powerful message to the governments and the police: "Do they expect migrant workers to eat only grass!?!?"
Our answer is obvious or should be. The GFMD cannot ignore the reality of the power of migrant workers, families and communities. In spite of the shortage and even overwhelming lack of resources, migrant rights groups from across the world either sent their representatives and delegations or sent in their endorsement of the People's Global Action declaration to tghe GFMD and the world.
Then speaker after speaker railed against the GFMD, the governments and the corporations. The unifying message was unequivocal: migrant rights cannot be ignored or violated; the GFMD has to be accountable and responsible to migrant communities. Without migrants at the table, the GFMD is taking the world into a dead-end alley.
"Migrant workers are human beings, not commodities."
Migrants now number over 200 million -- about 1 out of every 30 persons in the world has been forcibly displaced across international borders by neoliberal policies and structures whose mantra is the privatization and exploitation of everything under the sun, beginning with workers. The migrant nation is as big or bigger than some of the countries that benefit and many times are critically dependent on migrant labor and/or their remittances.
However, migrant families, workers and communities have rights regardless of how much remittances they contribute. One of the main ideas of the PGA and other forces here in the Philippines reminds the world that "Migrant workers are human beings, not commodities." A simple idea that eludes many who forget that you have rights whether or not you pay taxes, are single, don't work hard or aren't straight.
Today, in Manila, I saw the future of our struggles -- a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-generational, multi-border demand for justice and human rights regardless of migration status, citizenship or what country you happen to be working in or standing on.
Migrants have rights no matter what governments and their police, employers and their corporations, NGOs, non-profits, lobbyists and other organizations who think they can negotiate our communities' rights without consultation or consequences.
If we are an army, we are an army of Spring. If we are a nation, we are a nation of colors, a cross-pollination, that has been dispersed into other places strengthening humanity. If we are workers, we are indispensable. But above all, we are humans who have dignity and rights that nobody, no border, no corporation and no state can take away from us no matter how repressive or shortsighted their laws and legislation may be.
The People's Global Action brought together a new weaving of voices and dreams in the making that promise to change the world, just as the world and her injustices have transformed many of us into migrants.
Today, in Manila, I saw migrants reclaim their place in the world. And their place is everywhere.