Gov’t told to urgently rescue ‘trafficked and captive’ OFWs as Malaysia launches massive crackdowns on undocumented migrants today

Global alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and families Migrante International called on the Philippine government to “actively and urgently” act on the cases of trafficked Filipino workers who are being held captive by their employers in Malaysia as the Malaysian government started a massive crackdown on undocumented migrants in the country today, January 21.

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 cited the case of 23-year-old Monica Caranea who was trafficked from the Philippines to Malaysia last September 2013. Her mother brought her case to Migrante International after she got a call from her daughter asking to be rescued. Monica was promised work as a waitress in Malaysia by her recruiter but was flown to Kota Kinabalu to work as a nightclub entertainer instead.

In her last call to her mother, Monica said that her passport was confiscated by her employer and she was brought to a nightclub where at least a dozen girls are also staying. She said that they were being forced to “dress-up” for the customers, drink alcohol and take drugs. Her mother said that Monica told her that she feared for her safety because authorities have been conducting raids at the club at night. She wants to escape and go home to the Philippines but their living quarters are being tightly-guarded by security.

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.”

“We call on the Philippine government to urgently look into this matter. As of now, we are handling at least a dozen cases of Filipinas waiting to be rescued in their workplaces in Malaysia. We have endorsed their cases to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) but up to now no updates or responses have been made,” Martinez said.

Malaysia is one of the most common destinations of trafficked Filipino workers, mostly women, according to Migrante International. It is also one of the most common “transit points” of trafficked Filipinos on their way to other parts of Asia.

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 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.” ###