“The growing number of undocumented OFWs worldwide is indicative of the ongoing crisis of forced migration and the systemic economic crisis in the country.” – Migrante International
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Overseas Filipino workers group Migrante International called on President Benigno Aquino III to address the cases of trafficked Filipino workers in Malaysia, following the massive crackdown on undocumented migrant workers by Malaysian authorities.
“President Aquino should urgently look into this matter during his state visit. The situation of Filipinos in Malaysia should be one of his top priorities,” Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, said.
Last Jan. 21, 2014, the Malaysian government started its crackdown on undocumented workers. Days before the start of the crackdown, Foreign Affairs assistant secretary Raul Hernandez said in a report that Filipino undocumented workers should “voluntarily submit themselves to Malaysian authorities and ask for their deportation or repatriation” while those who have work permits should secure their immigration and working documents.
Since the pronouncement, Martinez said, the Philippine government did not set up “any mechanism to locate, rescue, or secure trafficked Filipinos whose passports have been confiscated, are working as undocumented migrants and/or are being held against their will in their respective workplaces.”
“In previous immigration crackdowns in 2005, 2008 and 2012, there was use of violence against migrants. Those arrested were not granted access to phone calls, embassies and counsels. Those arrested were brought to detention cells while others’ whereabouts were unknown,” Martinez said.
He added: “As of now, we are handling at least a dozen cases of Filipinas wanting to be rescued from their workplaces in Malaysia. They could not escape. They fear the ongoing raids. They fear for their lives.”
The Philippine Daily Inquirer said in a report that 200 Filipinos, mostly working in retail and agricultural sector, were arrested and eventually released.
Migrante International said their call is timely as Aquino is currently on a state visit to Malaysia.
Common transits for trafficked Filipinos
Migrante International said they are concerned with the high number of Filipinos, mostly women, falling victims to trafficking in Malaysia. Sabah, on the other hand, is the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos to Malaysia and to other parts of Asia.
In a fact finding mission back in 2009, Migrante International and other progressive groups found out that about 80 to 90 percent of migrant workers in Sabah were victims of trafficking.
Filipino workers in vast palm oil plantation in Sabah, according to a previous Bulatlat.com report, did not get the salaries promised them and were charged with exorbitant government fees. Those who complained about their working conditions were denied food and other basic necessities by their employer.
“True to its track record, the Philippine government is still not doing anything to stop these most recent abuses. It is not enough for the Philippine government to say that abuses are ‘unacceptable’. There has to be more pro-active measures in protecting Filipinos in Sabah and to compel the Malaysian government to protect the rights of civilians and migrants in Sabah,” Martinez said.
In 2007, Migrante International said the number of undocumented Filipino workers abroad has reached roughly 900,000. The number has increased over the years, said the migrant rights group, citing the continuing unemployment and landlessness in the country.
“The growing number of undocumented OFWs worldwide is indicative of the ongoing crisis of forced migration and the systemic economic crisis in the country,” Martinez said.
Respect migrant rights
Migrante International called on the Malaysian government to respect the human rights of all migrant workers, regardless if they are documented or not.
“Undocumented migrants, who inevitably provide the solution to labor shortages or the clamor for cheap labor in host countries, are marginalized and exploited. They are less able to assert their claims and are more vulnerable to abuses because of their ‘illegitimate’ status,” Martinez said.
He added that, “being undocumented is not a reason to be stripped of one’s fundamental human rights.”