A Webinar on Migration Crisis and the Call to Solidarity in Time of COVID-19

21 May 2020, Feast day of Christ Ascension

Let me begin with the published article in euronews by Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s Migration Researcher.

“On 28 April, residents and carers at Surrey Hills care home in the UK stood silent in tribute to Larni Zuniga, a victim of COVID-19 who had died four days earlier. The 54-year-old Zuniga had just become a British citizen, 12 years after moving from the Philippines. After years of waiting, his wife was finally receiving the documents to reunite with him. She would have arrived in June – had COVID-19 not arrived first. This tragedy, and countless others, are exposing not only the enormous suffering that COVID-19 can generate, but also how skewed the building blocks of our society are. Where people carrying out essential work – caring for the elderly or children, building roads, delivering food, picking fruit and stacking shelves – are invariably among the lowest paid, and very often have a migrant background. These people do not have the luxury of working from home and, as a result, are more easily exposed to the virus.”https://www.euronews.com/2020/05/07/before-coronavirus-europe-lacked-empathy-for-migrants-pandemic-can-teach-compassion-view

Migrants and immigrants share the commonality on the root cause of migration. Migration now becomes a forced choice, if we still can consider it a choice, for people to earn for a living and conserve the dignity as a person. They left and migrated because of wars of aggression in the homeland. They flee from an environmentally torn countries caused by multinational mining and exploitation from despotic and tyrannical rule.

The Labor export policy have made Filipinos a mere product, a simple commodity on which to exchange and profit from. In 2019 alone, our government had profited an enormous 29 billion dollars from our remittances. More than 10 percent of the total 105 million population of Filipinos are dispersed globally. Before the pandemic, 7,000 Filipinos leave our country every day to work abroad.

According to Migrante Europe, the situation of undocumented migrants and refugees here in Europe are precarious – hunger and possible homelessness because they can’t pay the rent.

Many undocumented Filipinos who are suffering from hunger are in those countries with total lockdown where they need to produce and show documents proving that they have to work – they are in Greece, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, UK, etc. Most of them are daily wage earners.

Some countries (Netherlands, Belgium, etc) suspended services for refugees to apply for asylum. Hungary closed its borders to all refugees.

In Greece. According to Matteo de Bellis, “thousands of people are trapped in unrelentingly harsh conditions, courtesy of Europe’s containment policies. Imagine being among 34,000 asylum-seekers – including older people, pregnant women and children – confined in camps on Greek islands which have capacity for 6,000. Evidently, Greek authorities should transfer asylum-seekers to the mainland, and other EU countries should offer places for relocation.”

In Germany. According to on news portal DW, “There are about one and a half million refugees in Germany. Many live in centers with several hundred inhabitants. Conditions are cramped and in some cases, residents share dormitories with strangers. At the moment, the fact that people have to share bathrooms and kitchens is exacerbating the situation and making contagion all the more likely and will end up infecting each other and that quarantine will simply be extended week by week.” https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-a-stress-test-for-germanys-refugee-homes/a-53086465

From Redfish, online media, Romanian seasonal workers in Germany have gone on strike against exploitation and are demanding full rights as they work in the fields during asparagus harvesting season. They are flown in to harvest Germany’s vegetable but paid ultra-low wages, given moldy food to subsist on, provided with bad accommodation and get no protection from COVID-19. And on top of that, they are not being paid well – earning only 100 to 250 euros for a month. About 300,000 seasonal migrant workers come to Germany every year to work in the fields and live in desperate conditions, mostly isolated from the outside world. https://www.facebook.com/Redfishstream/videos/3826289497442662/

Romaniam Workers Strike in Germany via Redfish

In Italy, a law to grant temporary regularization on migrants is approved by the parliament like it is in Portugal. However, in our discussions with Filipinos and among members of the Coalition, Fr. Aris Miranda of the Promotion of Church Peoples Response in Europe shared the following initial critical analysis;

  1. What does the law provides? It provides regularization of irregular migrants particularly those in the agricultural and domestic help sectors. There are around 600,000 irregulars in Italy and more than 60% are from the agricultural sector. According to the government the motive is to make the invisible visible and protect their rights but there is a lot of doubts in this. In fact, several migrant organizations are organizing protest rallies against this new decree.
  2. What is something wrong with this law?

a) It does not apply to all irregulars and clandestine but for those who entered legally in Italy but were not able to renew their permit to stay or labor contract work in black labor.

b) It is not free. Applicants have to pay 400 euros and not spared from the government’s hunger to refill their bankruptcy at the price of the blood of the irregulars. It’s another form of state exaction.

c) It is temporary and when it expires no one knows what will happen to them. They said that anyone who has temp labor contract can be transformed into a regular contract but knowing the very bureaucratic process in Italy it will not be granted.

d) There is nothing new in this law; it is technically a recycling of the old and inutile law – the Decreto Flussi, a law which allow migrants who want to work in Italy to apply online but very few were admitted and some has to wait for years as it has an annual quota. It’s another state exaction scheme.

Indeed, COID-19 pandemic respects no national boundary, ethnicity, eco-social, or immigration status and has aggravated the plight of the poor which are the real victims.  In Europe, like many countries in the world, however advanced the economy are, the real victims and most vulnerable are the undocumented immigrants – refugees, asylum seekers and displaced peoples.

It was along this very worrisome and horrible situation that the April 28 Coalition was founded less than a month ago composed of more than 70 organizations now. It is Europe-wide formation of grassroots organizations and concerned individuals for migrants’ and refugees’ rights and welfare united by our common objectives and shared values that all people have the right for equal protection in this continent and around the globe. We organized ourselves to help address the root causes of forced migration, due to poverty, wars, climate crisis and of other regional issues; and realizing recently the damaging impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced peoples and the undocumented.

We call on our host countries in Europe, to:

(1) Legislate the regularization and grant full citizenship rights for all migrants (irregular and undocumented), refugees, asylum seekers and displaced peoples.

(2) Ensure the provision of health assistance and other social services regardless of immigration status and address homelessness and food insecurity.

(3) Stop the immigration detention and deportation of individuals and families.

(4) End the global inequalities—within and among nations.

We are also calling the international community, the nations and states especially the members of the United nations and I quote the very letter of the challenge posted in the UN for Migration and Refugees… it says, “Member States are acutely aware of the huge movement of people across borders. Migration is a natural feature of our humanity, presenting opportunities but also challenges and vulnerabilities that we are struggling to address. And we need to cooperate to better assist and protect the over 25 million refugees who have been forced to leave their countries and to support host countries and communities. The General Assembly should continue to promote the two recent milestone agreements – 1) the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and 2) the Global Compact on Refugees aimed to provide coherence to the global efforts required for safe, orderly and regular migration, as well as to ensure the protection and assistance of refugees around the world.”

The Right Reverend Antonio N. Ablon, IFI

Lead Convenor, April 28 Coalition for Migrants’ and Refugees’ Rights and Welfare

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