“The moment…governments systematically export their own people just like commodities to be bought and sold, they definitely infringe on our right to human development. This is forced migration and modern-day slavery, not development.”
BY RONALYN OLEA
Close to 200 migrants from 35 countries gathered in Manila Oct. 28 to 30 and stood up against what they call as ‘modern day slavery.’
Under the banner of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), the migrants held the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) at the Bay View Park Hotel in Manila as a counter assembly to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) hosted by the Philippine government.
The participants to the IAMR held 11 simultaneous workshops on issues confronting the migrants, immigrants and refugees all over the world.
Topics include: 1) Fighting for the Rights of Migrants; 2) State Exactions and Government Accountability; 3) Issues and Struggles of Undocumented Workers; 4) Labor Export Policy and Remittances; 5) Legal Mechanism of Terror and the Struggles of Migrants and Refugees; 6) Labor and Migration; 7) Looking at and Fighting Xenophobia and Racism in the Face; 8) Global Migration and Education; 9) Health, Globalization and Migration; 10) Women Migration: The Empowerment Myth; and, 11) Seafarers: Issues and Concerns in Organizing and Empowering.
Majority of the speakers are migrants themselves and in all workshops, there were testimonials from migrants.
Eni Lestari, IMA chairperson and an Indonesian who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, said the GFMD, on the other hand, talked about migrants but without the migrants.
Lestari said the GFMD is being used by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to resurrect the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Mode 4 on the movement of persons.
She said resistance to the WTO scuttled the GATS Mode 4. “…[i]magine the global catastrophe that it would cause…on a global scale, this would systematize the export and import of labor and the intensification of the commodification of our skilled workers, health professionals, teachers, engineers, and other professionals as cheap labor.”
The IAMR declared, “We condemn these governments, international financial institutions and inter-governmental organizations espousing the neoliberal agenda in the GFMD. They are the culprits, in the first place, why our countries are poor and underdeveloped. They, together with the ruling elite and governments in sending countries, are the ones who have to answer to the people for the devastating effects of their neoliberal policies — joblessness, underemployment, landlessness, inflation, deteriorating social services, among others.”
“The international financial institutions like the World Bank and OECD want to ensure that the poor, debt-ridden countries would be able to pay their huge debts through migrant remittances, thus transforming those remittances as ‘tool for development’,” states the IAMR declaration.
The IAMR noted that the GFMD is being held at a time when the number of migrants has grown to about 205 million remitting $2.26 trillion annually, an amount much higher than the combined development assistance given by developed countries to poor countries.
Ufuk Berdan of Confederation of Workers from Turkey in Europe or ATIK and vice chairperson of IMA said that official migration policies of the international monopoly bourgeoisie are nothing but new forms of exploitation and oppression tools. “These policies are conceived to sacrifice the migrating intellectual and manual workers, migrating unemployed and poor masses and their children for the profits of the international capital.”
In their declaration, the IAMR delegates said, “We strongly oppose the framework and definition adopted by the GFMD on migration and development, which promotes a temporary labor migration program with the Philippine model as an example.”
The Philippines exports one million workers annually to 197 countries and is targeting to reach the two million mark by 2010. Today, overseas Filipino workers, including temporary workers, permanent immigrants and undocumented refugees comprise ten percent of the population and nine percent of the labor force.
Connie Bragas-Regalado, secretary general of IMA and chairperson of Migrante International explained why the Arroyo government is ‘gaining praise from sending and receiving countries.’ “Nowhere but in the Philippines can one find an overbearing infrastructure or huge bureaucracy that controls overseas recruitment. Talk about a government taking the lead, or something akin to one managing a slave-trading empire, with all the institutions in place and systematically filching money from each subject.”