Stop posturing, get down to business for trafficked OFWs in Malaysia, BS Aquino told

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International called on Pres. BS Aquino to “stop his posturing and get down to business” to address the cases of trafficked Filipino workers whose lives and well-being are in danger as the Malaysian government started a massive crackdown on undocumented migrants in the country last January 21.

Migrante International made the call as Pres. BS Aquino embarked on a state visit to Malaysia. He will be in the country until March 1.

In light of the massive crackdown, the Philippine government recently issued a warning to undocumented Filipinos in Malaysia to either “complete their immigration documentation or voluntarily submit themselves to the Philippine embassy to be deported.”

However, according to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the PH government has 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.

Martinez said that they are gravely concerned because of the high number of trafficked Filipinos all over Malaysia and the history and nature of crackdowns and raids by authorities there. “In previous immigration crackdowns in 2005, 2008 and 2012, there was high 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.”

“Pres. BS Aquino should urgently look into this matter during his state visit. The situation of Filipino in Malaysia should be included in his top priority,” Martinez said.

Malaysia is one of the most common destinations of trafficked Filipino workers, mostly women, according to Migrante International. “As of now, we are handling at least a dozen cases of Filipinas wanting to be rescued in their workplaces in Malaysia. They cannot escape. They fear the ongoing raids. They fear for their lives.”

Sabah

Martinez cited the plight of Filipinos in Sabah, one of the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos on their way to Malaysia or other nearby parts of Asia.

Citing reports from a fact-finding mission conducted by Migrante International and other migrant groups in 2009, Martinez said that around 80-90% of migrant workers in Sabah were trafficked.

By definition, trafficking is when 1) the workers have been lied to with regard a number of things, including salary; and 2) debt bondage at high interest rates; 3) slave-like conditions, involuntary servitude; and, 4) sex trafficking.

“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.”

Unfortunately, Martinez said, the Philippine government continues to play the lame duck despite human rights violations, mass arrests and deportation of Filipinos from Sabah. “The Aquino administration has no backbone, no fighting spirit, no compassion for our Filipino people in Sabah.

Martinez also extended full support to the Filipino community and other migrant communities in Malaysia in their fight against intensified crackdowns on undocumented workers. “We are very concerned for the well-being of Filipino migrants and migrants of other nationalities in Malaysia and Sabah right now. We also call on the Malaysian government to observe human rights of all migrants, documented or undocumented.”

Migrante International supports the international campaign for the de-criminalization of undocumented migrants. It is also pushing host countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The Convention does not discriminate against undocumented or irregular migrant workers.

He said, “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 ‘illegitimacy’.”

“Being undocumented is never reason to be stripped of one’s fundamental human rights,” Martinez said.

According to records of Migrante International, the number of undocumented Filipino workers deployed in different countries has reached approximately 900,000 in 2007. “This number has continued to increase over the years, especially in light of continued unemployment and landlessness here in the Philippines. The growing number of undocumented OFWs worldwide is indicative of the ongoing crisis of forced migration and systemic economic crisis in the country.” ###

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