Representatives of migrant workers’ groups around the world, some of them church partners, are scheduled to gather in Hong Kong from June 14-17 for the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance, which aims to advance the rights and interests of all migrants, refugees and displaced people.
Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International, a global alliance of 130 Filipino migrant groups in 22 countries, said it was crucial for organizations to forge “co-ordinated and joint actions” regarding issues such as just wages, job security, criminalization of undocumented migrants and trafficking of women. She spoke at a briefing in Toronto sponsored by Kairos, an ecumenical justice group that includes the Anglican Church of Canada.
In 2005, the United Nations estimated that three per cent of the world’s population, or 191 million people, lived in a country other than that in which they were born. Of these, 42 million are legal migrant contract workers, according to the International Labour Organization; the number of undocumented migrant workers is estimated at 35 million.
“We also need to talk about how the war on terror is affecting migrant workers. We need to look into the social cost of migration,” said Ms. Regalado, who is based in the Philippines.
Ms. Regalado said Migrante, which provides assistance to migrant workers in distress, handles about 1,000 cases each year, the majority of them involving women who work as domestic workers in the Middle East. The group’s most recent high-profile case involved Marilou Ranario, who was sentenced to death in Kuwait in 2007 for killing her employer. After a campaign by Migrante and other groups that forced the Philippine government to appeal on Ms. Ranario’s behalf, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Migrante maintains that Ms. Ranario had acted in self-defense and was a victim of abuse.
Ms. Regalado said there are about 5,000 migrant Filipino workers languishing in prison, 26 of them in death row. “A lot of those in prison are undocumented workers who flee from their employers for non-payment of salaries, abuses and rape,” she said. “When a worker leaves, the employer often files a case of absconding and you become a criminal.”
She lamented the fact that the Philippine government has continued to allow the deployment of contract workers to countries where it has no bilateral agreements, despite a Magna Carta banning this.
The Philippines’ labour export program, dating back to 1974, “provides no protection for workers,” she said.
There are about 10 million migrant Filipinos living in 198 countries and of these, four million are contract workers, said Ms. Regalado.