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Migrants and refugees

Lessons Being Learned

Uprooted peoples face racism and marginalisation. There are an estimated 16 million migrants, immigrants and refugees in Europe. Nonoi Hacbang, himself exiled from the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship, speaks of the importance of self-organisation.

By Nonoi Hacbang

Asylum Seekers, Welcome to Ireland, please take an insult and wait the line...

As we approach the 21st century, the international movement of Peoples whether of refugees or migrant workers has emerged as a cutting edge issue in the arena of international politics. This is both a manifestation as well as a consequence of the geo-politics and geo-economics which are dominating the post Cold war world.

On the one hand we witness the globalisation of the world economy, which is further widening the gap between North and South, as well as the gap between the rich and the poor within our countries. The World Bank and IMF, and more recently the WTO and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, are rewriting the rules of global trade and commerce. This is resulting in the concentration of power over the world's resources, technology, finance and markets in the hands of a few global Transnational Corporations.

In the late 1990s, a majority of the 100 largest economies in the world are not sovereign nations, but TNCs. Of the world's largest economies, 51 are TNCs and 49 are countries. The combined sales of the world's top 200 corporations are equal to 28% of the world GDP (Gross Domestic Product). However these corporations employ less than one-third of 1% of the world's population.

This rapid process of globalisation of the world economy has resulted in more than 1 billion people people living in abject poverty, 70% of whom are women.

The rush to globalisation has given rise to competing regionalisms which we witness in the formation of the European Union, NAFTA and APEC. This geo-economic rivalry is paralleled in the geo-political arena. The end of the Cold War has seen the emergence of 'low-intensity' wars in several parts of the world, including in Eastern Europe. In many parts of our world, societies and governments are breaking down under the combined pressures of the legacies of colonialism and of globalisation.

These are some of the factors and contexts which have shaped our current experience as migrants and refugees. It has also resulted in some governments, such as the Philippines government, adopting an aggressive export of labour policy as a central strategy for keeping the economy afloat.

Globalisation & the Struggle for Migrant & Refugee Rights

In the globalisation of the world economy we are witnessing the incorporation of migrant and refugee labour as an essential component and instrument of the global market system. Our labour provides a 'global workforce' that is mobile, cheap, and responsibility-free both for employers and for governments. Here in Europe, we are an estimated 16 million migrants, immigrants and refugees.

I would like to draw lessons from the history and herstory of our struggles and experiences as refugees and migrants here in Europe. As migrant and refugee peoples from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean we have taken initiatives as principal actors in our diverse situations. Through our self-organisation efforts, we continue to build not only communities of survival but vibrant communities of initiative and resistance. As a young refugee once said "We should not allow our problems to be taken out of our hands. This is a freedom we should never surrender."
One of the many ironies of these proposals is that neither Peter Maurin nor Dorothy Day would have been academically qualified to sit in a "chair of Catholic Worker theology".

Communities of Initiative & Resistance

Even a preliminary survey of migrant and refugee communities in any country here in the European Union will reveal a very dense and dynamic network of organizations, at local and national levels. Specific Communities have also developed their networks across Europe and there are also a number of Europe-level platforms and campaigns where communities of many nationalities cooperate for joint initiatives.

Such density and dynamism of initiatives is only possible where migrants have succeeded in organising themselves. It is through our self-organization that we as migrants and refugees are able to assert our self-determination and remain principal actors in addressing our problems.

At the macro level, we can also see the impact of migration on the economic and political and social developments of the past decades not only here in Europe, but also globally. I will mention only the most outstanding.

* Migrants and refugees made substantive economic, political and social contributions to the re-construction of Europe after World War 11; likewise to the economic boom of the Middle East; and most recently to the Tiger economies in East and South East Asia.

* Migrant remittances globally approached US$70 billion a year in the 1990s, representing a large proportion of world financial flows, second in value only to oil among aggregate international trade and financial transactions. In the Philippines, migrant remittances which reached US$7.5 billion in 1996 remain the number one contributor to the economy.

* Our struggles and campaigns have enhanced and deepened mainstream human rights discourse.

Our current campaigns are challenging the Treaty of Amsterdam and the debates around the inter-governmental conference.

Self-organization is of crucial importance to us as migrant and refugee communities, and I would like to highlight three organizing strategies which have been developed in our Filipino migrant community experience, but which are not unique to us and have wider relevance to all migrants. We have developed organizing as strategies for Empowerment, for Partnership and for Participation in Development.

Organizing for Empowerment

In organizing for empowerment, we as migrants assert that we are subjects of our own history and herstory. We regain the sense of human dignity lost as a consequence of displacement and uprootedness.In our organizations we provide space to deal with the violence and rejection and racist hostility.

We break the cycle of marginalisation and move centre-stage to assert our rights and welfare. It is through organizing for empowerment that we can make concrete our sense of self-determination and plan specific projects and programmes, to deal with a wide range of felt needs and problems.

When we are organized as a community, we are able to provide direct responses and services for urgent needs such as homelessness, violence, arrests, deportations. Of course, as migrant and refugee organizations we cannot possibly absorb the entire scale of this. But as organized communities, we can maximise the direct services programmes of the government and voluntary bodies.

Organizing for Partnership

While migrants and refugees place strong emphasis on empowerment and capacity building in their own organizations, an equally valued strategy is our effort in organizing for partnership with others. The whole experience of migrants and refugees no matter what its causes brings a deep sense of alienation and there are strong tendencies, both internal to uprooted peoples as well as in the hostile new environment, to retreat into ghettos either physical or psychological. This can only be adequately counter-acted by a strategy of organizing for partnership.

Besides, in tackling the structural issues and political and social questions, in combating racism, in advocating policy change at national and global levels, it becomes crucial for our migrant and refugee communities to find active partnerships among themselves and together with the political, social and ecumenical organizations in the host countries.

Organizing for participation in development

As migrants and refugees we live a twofold reality. In Europe we strive to participate productively in the economic and political development of Europe. In the face of European integration, and despite the rise of racism and xenophobia and the increased criminalisation of migrants and refugees, we struggle with the host peoples for equal rights in a democratic and non-racist Europe.

Our countries of origin are always with us, not only because we have left families behind us, but also because we can expect migration to continue and even intensify in the current rush to globalisation of the world economy. This will continue to impact on our countries, in the South and in the East.

Migration on the global scale we are currently experiencing calls for joint responsibilities of governments in host countries and countries of origin. It also calls for an integrated people centred development strategy which would be significantly less dependent on migrant remittances. That is why our organizing strategies have to embrace the issues of development in our home countries.

  Sharing the Future Beyond 2000

In 1998, the world will celebrate 50 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the UN in 1948. This occasion provides a new opportunity for governments all over the world to renew commitment to human rights and to acknowledge that refugee and migrant rights are human rights. In the Filipino community in Europe, we are giving special emphasis to campaigning for the ratification of the UN Convention for the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants and Members of their Families. No European state has yet ratified this Convention. We also press for the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights by the EU.

The current trends and processes of globalisation make it all the more urgent to put in place international and universally accepted human rights standards.

As migrants and refugees, we bring our living roots with us roots of struggles, cultures, religions; but also roots of creativity and humanity. These living roots we plant deeply in the situations we find ourselves here in Europe. In this encounter, new transformations take place and through these we struggle to build and share the future together.
  Nonoi Hacbang is currently Chairperson of the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers a Europewide migrant institution based in Amsterdam working in partnership with a Platform of 75 Filipino migrant organisations throughout Europe. He was forced to become a political refugee in the period of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers, Haarlemmerdijk
173, 1017 KH, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Tel 00 31 20 625 4829.

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