Mixed emotions filled the group of deportees from Malaysia during the night of their arrival on 3 July 2019 at NAIA Terminal 1 around 9:40 PM. After spending weeks trembling in fear and torment, they are relieved to finally get back home and be reunited with their loved ones. The four children were clearly gripped by exhaustion as their mothers found themselves brooding spasmodically over the uncertainties that await them. With almost all of their belongings looted by wardens and immigration officers at Bukit Jalil, they only managed to carry with them small shoulder bags.
Their bafflement were slightly cut short after volunteers and staff members from Migrante International and Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM) ushered in to greet them. They were glad to know that these groups worked closely with Tenaganita, a migrant-centre based in Malaysia that dealt directly with the case of the detained mothers and toddlers. Like Migrante International, Tenaganita is also an active member of the International Migrants Alliance or IMA.
Holding back their tears, the mothers recounted their 2-week ordeal at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Centre. Ralyn (not her real name) can never forget how “muster” or routine inspections every 5 minutes from 7AM to 12AM midnight were led by barking detention wardens and spiteful immigration officers. Detainees were fed with “stale and burnt food good for swines,” Ralyn revealed.
Enny and Anita (real names withheld) described their cells as cramped and filthy. They were made to lie down on the cold floor surface and nobody was allowed to use any sleeping mats. Even scraps of cardboard which they used to fan themselves and cover the floor get confiscated.
Immigration detainees had only one set of clothes which they had to wash and wear every other day. “We wore the same clothes that we had been wearing on the night we were arrested,” Enny exclaimed. Those who got some cash to spare were able to purchase low quality clothes sold inside the facility. Even then, they still have to choose conserving the little money that they have so they can buy bottled waters or risk getting dehydrated by extreme heat and thirst.
“Our rights as humans were violated! The female wardens acted as if they are not mothers themselves. They were vile and mean, treated us like animals. All the children always get terrified when they’re around,” Ralyn said.
Non-married or single detainees are constantly in handcuffs and any detainee inside the facility that is seen by immigration wardens as misbehaving is dealt with severely. The mothers recalled how a female detainee from Kenya who has been showing signs of Psychosis was tied to the wall with both hands and was made to stand the whole day.
Children are not spared from verbal abuse by growling wardens and immigration officers. Many of the young detainees were in need of medical attention. Migrante International in an earlier statement cited scientific studies that showed how “children subjected to these kinds of excruciating ordeal are certainly susceptible to psychological stress and emotional trauma which can lead to life-long behavioral consequences.”
“Almost all of the detainees are from poor countries,” Anita said. According to Ralyn, most of their fellow detainees are from countries like Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Kenya and Nigeria.
When asked for their future plans, the mothers said that going back overseas is still in the offing since they are not expecting to get decent paying jobs in the Philippines.
Time and again, Migrante International has underscored the need for regular and stable employment for Filipinos in their own country. “Aside from the poor level of social services, Filipino workers are stricken by anti-labour policies like contractualization and the regionalization of the minimum wage. Labour conditions have worsened under the Duterte regime,” Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion stated.
“Coming back to the Philippines presents the same problems of instability and peril to returning OFWs and migrant children. We have a Fascist president who violates the rights of Filipino children either through his fake war on drugs or through Martial Law in Mindanao,” Concepcion added referring to the recent case of the 3-year old girl in Rizal Province who became the latest victim of the Duterte regime’s drug war. More than 100 children have already been killed since Duterte’s “bloody campaign” started in 2016.
On the same night after their arrival, the mothers boarded provincial buses headed to their respective hometowns in Bataan and Laguna. Ralyn chose to stay overnight in Manila at a place offered to her by CWWM inside the NCCP (National Council of Churches in the Philippines) compound before travelling to Bulacan the following morning. The mothers expressed their overwhelming gratitude to Tenaganita for the fervent assistance accorded to them. Migrante International vowed to continue working with allies like Tenaganita to uphold the rights and welfare of migrants and their families as well as carrying forward its efforts to expose and exact justice from the rights violations committed by the authorities of the host countries and the Duterte regime.