3 years under Aquino More undocumented OFWs targeted by crackdowns in host countries After Middle East, Japan and Korea now launching crackdowns, mass deportation

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International today expressed deep concern over the crackdowns and mass deportation of undocumented Filipinos recently being launched in Japan and South Korea.

The crackdowns, it said, are sure to endanger the rights and welfare of tens of thousands of undocumented OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) if the Aquino government displays the same inaction and neglect as it has been doing in light of crackdowns on undocumented migrants in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

In Japan, 75 Filipinos have recently been deported back to the Philippines – the first time that such mass deportation of undocumented OFWs has been carried out by Japanese immigration.

According to Migrante-Japan, the OFWs were forcibly taken from their detention facilities very early in the morning of July 6, some were still even in their sleepwear, and then herded by bus straight to the Narita International Airport. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Filipinos are undocumented in Japan.

Sources in Japan say that Japanese authorities were “emboldened to launch this first ever mass deportation of undocumented OFWs after Philippine authorities recently did rounds on detention centers to give seminars on the Philippine government’s reintegration program”. After which, the Japanese immigration proceeded with the mass deportation without any warning or due process.

In South Korea, the Korean government is currently launching with renewed vigor more intensified crackdowns on undocumented migrants, targeting around 40,000 to 50,000 undocumented Filipinos in the country.

The crackdowns are a result of the South Korean government’s labor policy, the Employment Permit System (EPS). According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, the EPS has been proven flawed and anti-migrant and should be scrapped.

The Philippine and Korean government signed an agreement on the EPS in 2006. Since then, some 500,000 workers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Indonesia have been brought to South Korea under its mandate. The EPS basically allows Korean employers who have failed to hire local workers to legally employ migrant workers.

However, Martinez said, the EPS has failed to ensure benefits and protect the rights of migrant workers. “Instead, since its implementation seven years ago, cases of labor and human rights violations against OFWs and other migrant workers continue to run rampant. As in Saudi, more OFWs in Korea have become undocumented after escaping abusive employers,” said Martinez.

One of the objectives of the EPS was supposedly to increase transparency of sending and receiving countries, and consequently protect migrant workers’ rights and prevent discrimination. “However, there is no monitoring system and companies and employers violate migrant workers’ rights without being held accountable. More Korean employers have been hiring undocumented migrants to be able to evade compliance on minimum wages, benefits and leaves,” he said.

Martinez, himself an undocumented OFW in South Korea for 12 years before he was deported to the Philippines, said, “The present global economic crisis has unleashed so-called ‘protectionist measures’ characterized by crackdown operations and harsher immigration policies that bear down on irregular or undocumented workers, at the expense of their human rights.”

Reverse migration?

Meanwhile, similar immigration and labor policies are already being implemented elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman. Stricter immigration measures are also in effect in host countries in Europe, Canada and America.

“Combined with the continuous repatriation of distressed OFWs in Egypt, Syria and Libya, and the deportation of undocumented OFWs in Europe, Canada and the United States, then indeed a ‘reverse migration’ phenomenon could be expected in the coming months,” said Martinez.

Stricter immigration policies, criminalization and deportation of millions of undocumented OFWs are causes for grave concern that should immediately addressed by the Aquino government, Martinez said.

“If the government is attributing a so-called ‘reverse migration’ due to these factors, then it is right on spot. Since 2010, thousands upon thousands of OFWs in distress have been deported or forcibly repatriated back to the country due to civil unrests, calamities, economic instabilities and other similar factors in migrant-receiving countries.”

But to attribute a “reverse migration” due to the recent GDP growth is outright deceitful and misleading, he said.

With the record-high unemployment rate and the lack of a comprehensive and sustainable reintegration and employment program for returning OFWs, a so-called “reverse migration” will not be tantamount to the Aquino government’s claims that OFWs are opting to come home for good.

“Filipinos will not be stopped from being forced to leave the country in search for “greener pastures” abroad. And so the cycle continues,” said Martinez.

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 under Aquino’s term, especially in light of continued unemployment, low wages, landlessness and poor social services 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,” Martinez said. ###