The communique of the Asia consultation on “Human trafficking and forced migration: A call for decent labour and a living wage”

A pre-event to the 2017 Asia Mission Conference 9-11 October 2017

1. We the participants of the Asia Consultation on Human Trafficking and Forced Migration are representatives of churches, church councils, ecumenical bodies, mission partners, grassroots migrant organizations, and migrant-serving institutions in Asia1. We gathered under the auspices of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), on the occasion of its 60th anniversary and on the convening of the 2017 Asia Mission Conference. The consultation was organized in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC). We gathered around a shared concern, indeed alarm, at the increased occurrences of forced migration, including trafficking in persons, and their labor and services. This shared concern propelled us to a clear focus on forced migration: real people called who are in various stages of forced migration, including human trafficking.

2. We came from all parts of Asia, with its cultural diversity and religious plurality. The region is economically diverse, with countries that are either migrant-sending, migrant-transit or migrant-destination. It is a venue and witness to both historic and contemporary injustices that demonstrate the violations of human rights including the freedom of movement.

3. We lamented the rampant disregard for the human dignity of migrants and the wanton violation of their human rights. We asserted that all human rights are rights of migrants and refugees. We affirmed that “…we may not all be migrants, but we are all human beings laying claim to the same human rights that are equally the rights of migrants. The safeguards and protections we afford to refugees, migrants and displaced peoples speak to that common dignity in humanity that human rights are founded on”2. The biblical reminder that we may “entertain angels unawares” challenged us with a new ethical demand brought about by our increased awareness that the strangers amongst us are God’s people in diaspora—needful of our hospitality and mercy as much as our advocacy for the justice they seek and the human rights they deserve.

4. We listened to stories of human beings caught in the vicious cycle of victimization under conditions of forced migration, especially human trafficking in all its forms (trafficking in labor, drugs, human organs, sex, baby-selling, mail-order brides). We were particularly moved by the personal testimony of Celia Veloso, whose daughter, Mary Jane Veloso, is a victim of trafficking for which reason she currently languishes in Indonesian prison with a death sentence. Her case is emblematic of the precarious situation that many trafficking victims and migrant workers in forced migration experience today. The relentless campaign by family, friends, churches and advocates in the Philippines, Indonesia and around the world , is equally emblematic of what united action can do—which is to gain a reprieve from execution from the Indonesian government. But the plight of Mary Jane is far from over. To seek justice for Mary Jane Veloso means seeking the commutation of her death sentence and her release, back to her family and community. It also means seeking redress from her traffickers and bringing them to justice.

5. The power of personal testimonies as both stories of faith and social critique were abundantly demonstrated at the consultation. We heard stories of people striving for abundant life, by persevering in their search for gainful employment as a way to address the worsening poverty that afflicts many Asian peoples and households. We heard accounts from migrant-serving institutions about peoples who have been forced to flee their homelands due to ongoing wars and conflicts, climate change, including environmental disasters arising from extractive practices that have rendered both the planet and the people vulnerable. We also heard about hapless victims of complex nation-state relations who have been rendered stateless.

6. These stories reflect what migration today is like and what drives people to move, in unprecedented massive numbers and frequency. The facts and figures we heard from each country varied, but the drivers of migration are the same. Human trafficking thrives under conditions of wanton poverty, uneven development of economies, and ongoing violence. These same conditions make this modern-day slavery a scourge.

7. Forced migration, including trafficking and smuggling of persons, is aided and abetted by: (a) migrant-sending governments whose labour export program is deemed a solution to underdevelopment; and (b) migrant-receiving governments whose demand for cheap labour is exploited by some for greed and profit. Forced labour migration makes poor people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including dirty, demeaning and difficult jobs, starvation wages and non-protection. Their bodies ache from hard labor as much as from psychological trauma of their working conditions and separation from family members while working abroad.

8. Migration today is gendered and sexualized. The tragically high number of women, youth and children who are forced to migrate and are trapped in modern-day slavery, must rally us to address age and gender-based economic, political and cultural systems and structures that are disempowering, leaving them more vulnerable to exploitation.

9. Under such forced migration, human beings are then commodified, in the trafficking for sex, in human organs and baby-selling, turning their bodies into collateral for economic benefits. Forced migration has also made commodities of migrants, turning their labour and services into instruments of cheap labour.

10. Migration today cannot be isolated from concerns for decent labour and the struggle for a living wage. Decent work requires a living wage, not a starvation wage, with a safe and secure working environment. Decent work and a living wage are denied for many by the uneven development of economies. Decent work and a living wage should be global public goods, protected and enforced by law including human rights and international labour laws.

11. Migration today is globalized and xenophobically nationalistic, racialized and ethnicized, heightening racial discrimination and hatred among peoples. Migrants are criminalized, reduced to the documents that they possess and do not possess.

12. Migrants are people. They are not documents or the financial contributions that they make. As one migrant said: Do not talk about us without us. We have answers and we have been voicing them. Listen and talk with us about migration, development and human rights. [All over the world] migrants are collectively struggling and organizing to make our dreams come true.

13. Looking ahead, we commit to organizing that gathers us in common lines of action together. We will work towards cooperation and solidarity as we endeavor to help and be with our migrant brothers and sisters. From service provision to pastoral care and advocacy to public awareness, we can build on each other’s energies and on each other’s strengths as migrants, migrant-serving institutions, member councils and member churches, and ecumenical bodies.

14. Our concerns that brought us together in Yangon arise out of our faith conviction that all persons are bearers of the divine image and of sacred worth. Migrants are strangers waiting to be welcomed with hospitality and into our neighborhood. In the compassion of Jesus, we cannot rest until we turn strangers into neighbors and friends. Our commitment is to the abundant and sustainable life which is God’s purpose for all.

15. Forced migration today is redefining our Christian and ecumenical mission. In the light of the Gospel, the characteristics of and challenges to migration today demand that our faith communities and ecumenical bodies revisit and even re-examine the mission of the church and the way we organize our churches to deliver its ministries and make visible its mission. This requires an ecclesiology that recognizes the diversity of God’s people, in both their gathered and dispersed nature, brought about, not least, through migration. It also requires a Christology that not only recognizes the multi-faith and multi-religious character of the Asian population and its diaspora but also what makes for an evangelistic task with dignity and integrity in such situations. Missiology today too must understand how to do mission in a plural and diverse diaspora, and in a manner that is obedient to God’s will for the entire oikoumene.

16. We arrived in Yangon as strangers to each other, but now we are friends and co-workers, connected by our common desire to address forced migration and human trafficking. The shalom we seek for all is none other than the peace the prophets have proclaimed: “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4). The life we dream for all is none other than what our Lord Jesus has willed: “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). We disperse as a faith community impelled by the call to “Keep loving each other like family. Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2).

Yangon, Myanmar
11 October 2017

[1] The 58 participants came from Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, Vietnam and New Zealand, and from diaspora in the United States of America.

[1] Speaking Our Truths as Migrants and Refugees: Claiming and Mobilizing Our Narratives to Address Forced Migration and Enforced Movement, Dhaka Assertions (2016), in Turning Strangers Into Friends: Hospitality, Mercy, Justice—A Workbook on the Framework Documents of the Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM), Bautista, Liberato, C. (ed.), National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Quezon City, 2017.