Migrante International pays tribute to Dr. Irene Fernandez (1946-2014), warrior for migrants’ rights

It is with great sadness that Migrante International learned of the passing of Dr. Irene Fernandez, friend, comrade and warrior for the promotion and protection of migrants’ rights.

Fernandez passed away today, March 31, at 10:58am, due to heart failure. She was 67 years old.

Migrante International extends its most heartfelt condolences to Fernandez’ families – her daughters who have since also embraced her activism, and the international community of human rights workers and migrants’ rights advocates that she served and upheld.

At the time of her death, Fernandez was the Vice-Chairperson of the International Migrants’ Alliance (IMA), a broad international alliance composed of progressive and anti-imperialist migrant organizations of different nationalities.

On November 28, 2012, Fernandez served as an expert witness for the International Migrants’ Tribunal (IMT) on the Global Forum on Migration and Development, held in Manila, Philippines, that declared 37 states guilty of violating migrants’ rights.

Fernandez was a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (considered as the Alternative Nobel Prize) in 2005 for “her outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women and abuses of migrant and poor workers.”

She was the director and co-founder of Tenaganita, a Malaysian organization which promotes the rights of migrant workers and other oppressed and poor people in Malaysia, and an affiliate of Migrante International.

In 1995, Fernandez published a report on the living conditions of migrant workers, entitled “Abuse , Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centers”, that investigated and exposed the plight of Filipino migrant workers in Sabah detention cells, among others. While the Malaysian government affirmed some sections of the research, in March 1996, it ordered the arrest of Fernandez and charged her with “maliciously publishing false news.” Migrante International joined the international community in calling for her immediate release. After seven years of trial, she was found guilty in 2003 and convicted to one year imprisonment. Released on bail pending her appeal, her passport was held by the courts and, as a convicted person, she was barred from standing as parliamentary candidate in the 2004 Malaysian elections. Despite her restricted civil rights, she continued to work for the promotion and protection of migrants’ rights. On November 24, 2008, the Malaysian High Court overturned her earlier verdict and acquitted her of the conviction.

Fernandez’ work and courage will serve as inspiration to all migrant workers and migrants’ rights advocates around the world. Long live Dr. Irene Fernandez! ###