GLOBAL MIGRATION IS PERMANENT:
Manila, December 3, 2008 – For those backroom economists and politicians eager to sanitize their economies by sending migrant labor back home the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had a nasty surprise this month: Migration is not going away and your solution is not expulsion but flexible new policies.
In developed countries where recession has prompted industries to shave down their workforce or go bankrupt, the migrant workers are the first to be laid off or have their contracts canceled. But the hope of these labor-hosting countries that the migrant worker will then quietly go home is wishful thinking, so the experts say.
This kind of wishful thinking is misleading for nations like Italy where Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition includes neo-fascist and xenophobic parties. The coalition decreed zero addition to migrant workers next year. But migration experts say that will not help Italy or anyone else because people escaping hunger, deprivation, war or persecution will simply keep coming – illegally.
Worse, those migrants who have lost their jobs might resort to dishonest ways to eke out a living.
The European Union has foreseen this phenomenon and created specially trained Border Police units whose task is to track down labor-smuggling networks and ensure, through modern technology, those caught as illegal immigrants are tagged so they can never return for a second entry attempt.
If the prospects of curtailing snowballing migration are negative for the industrialized countries the repercussions of the global recession (caused by the excesses of unfettered investment practices) is certain to cause even greater hardships among countries in which large sectors of the population are dependent on remittances from migrant workers.
Developed countries are unlikely to offer a receptive ear to the IOM plea: ‘Please keep your doors open.’ And given the current credit squeeze and economic stagnation the labor-sending nations are also unlikely to heed the IOM’s exhortation to build more industries to generate jobs that keep their citizen at home.
The IOM warns of ‘human mobility on an unprecedented global scale.’ Already forty million Chinese are abroad (2.9 per cent of the Chinese population) and twenty million Indians, 1.9 per cent of the Indian population.
Nowhere is the imminent tragedy of the world’s 200 million migrant workers more acute then in the Philippines where the so-called ‘overseas workers’ now total 8.2 million, more then ten per cent of the Philippine’s population, or one in every four adult Filipino citizen.
Amazingly Filipinos in general return to their homeland and rarely settle or integrate in foreign countries, unlike Indians and Chinese. Filipino Overseas Workers also invest their savings at home.
With remittances from abroad the main revenue earner in the Philippines any reduction in this massive overseas work force would send the country into an economic tailspin.
At the root of the Filipino exodus (by far the largest per capita) is a feudalist oligarchy which has been running the country for its own benefits but under the guise of a democracy. In this club of the rich and influential family clans the leadership rotates, the participants invent their own political parties or buy existing ones. Often they feud among themselves.
An outsider, movie star Joseph Estrada, muscled in on this ruling cartel in the 1990s. He achieved a thumping success in the presidential election on a wave of populist euphoria. But Estrada was quickly ‘defrocked’ by an orchestrated ‘peoples revolt’ backed by the Armed Forces. He was charged with corruption, a charge that has pursued every Filipino president, including Estrada’s successor Gloria Arroyo. (As Estrada’s vice-president she led the ‘revolt’ and became, not surprisingly, the next president. Now she intends to change the constitution to remain in office for another term.)
The Philippines, a democracy in which the vote has always been for sale, is not atypical of nations sending out millions of their workers (half of them women according to the IOM) to earn their keep abroad and send back the keep for their families and relatives.
Remittances from overseas allow these labor-export nations to shun social service obligations, leaving the maintenance of the poor and old to relatives sending money from abroad. Bright young political activists with degrees cannot find jobs and join the exodus, so depleting opposition to systems that perpetuate themselves.
According to the IOM total global remittances reached 337 billion dollars last year, double the money sent home in 2002.
The impact migrant labor has made on developed countries is most visible on a Sunday in Hong Kong. Then most of the 240,000 domestic workers serving Chinese families in the former British colony hold their weekly Sunday picnic in Central, covering every available space within a square mile, providing their own entertainment on a makeshift stage and setting up their own shopping malls on the one day they are allowed to have off.
Without those Filipino nannies Hong Kong families would not be able to have both spouses at work, making good salaries while paying only $300 US a month to the nannies. These exploited migrant workers have no recourse to a union or the law and are on call 24 hours a day six days a week. Many sleep under stairways or in closet-like spaces at their master’s home. Many are abused and treated like slaves.
If you ask the people of Hong Kong why they so shamelessly exploit these women they bristle with indignation and retort that without their Hong Kong jobs these women and their families would starve back home.
It is no surprise the majority of these domestic helpers, nannies, cooks and cleaning women, have their own children back in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as husbands, parents and siblings that live off the monthly remittances from the nannies of Hong Kong, Singapore, the Middle East and the lowly paid sailors, mainly from the Philippines, manning the global merchant navies.
|Filipina Overseas Worker on her day off at Hong Kong Central in traditional costume.|