Framing migration from the ground

Networking by Churches and ecumenical Institutions– Ideas, History and Perspectives

By Mervin Sol H. Toquero and Liberato Bautista
Published in German by Bread for the World | Brot für die Welt

In 2008, in Manila, a luncheon with then UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Mr. Jorge Bustamante, was organized by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and Migrante International. Also present were representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), and several Roman Catholic leaders.

Mr. Bustamante underscored the importance of churches in ensuring the rights and welfare of migrants. He shared his observation that migrants who face challenges and troubles often turn to churches for help. The sharing of ideas over a meal was the impetus to form an international platform for advocacy and forthright action on global migration, especially forced migration and movement in all its forms. In response to Mr. Bustamante’s remarks, NCCP and Migrante International organized what is now the Churches Witnessing With Migrants (CWWM).

As a tripartite body, CWWM today has brought together churches and ecumenical institutions, migrants and migrant-serving organizations from Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America and Asia. From the first meeting in Manila, CWWM has since gathered in Athens, Mexico, New York, Stockholm and Istanbul. In 2016, CWWM is scheduled to meet in Dhaka where also the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) will take place.

It is not by accident that CWWM first began in Manila. Faced with massive domestic unemployment and underemployment, an average of 6,092 Filipinos leave the country daily to work abroad. Around 20% of Philippines’ working age population work outside the country. The Philippines is one of the highest remittance-receiving countries in the world. In 2015, Filipino overseas workers remitted US$28.5 billion, or 9.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GNI). For a country in need of foreign exchange reserves, remittances are an easy source. For migrants and their families, such remittances come with a heavy cost on human and family relations. Pain and suffering are high among workers separated from their families, denied of dignity and equal rights in foreign countries, and subjected to exploitative labor practices.

CWWM confronts a more fundamental question: Is migration and labor export a real strategy for development or, rather, a mode of increasing underdevelopment? Through their government’s labor export policies, millions of people in many parts of the world are sacrificed by their governments to the international labor market as commodities. Many migrants today engage in dirty, dangerous and degrading work that most people in first world countries do not want to do. Labor export gives governments of underdeveloped countries a valve to release social pressures built up by high levels of unemployment and underemployment. CWWM is able to influence the debate on national development policies, especially the export of migrant labor, through the collaboration of grassroots and national migrants’ groups on the ground.

Labor export increases GNPand foreign currency reserves but fails to address issues of national development that would create real jobs and opportunities. Labor export creates a two-tiered system of rights in host countries. Migrant workers are accorded with fewer rights, less recourse to redress grievances, and experience greater vulnerability to exploitation than the citizen population in the countries where they work. For quick money and profit, some labor recruitment agencies engage not only in legitimate hiring but also in acts that clearly qualify as forms of human trafficking. Workers who flee exploitation by employers in host countries frequently become undocumented and become vulnerable to human traffickers and other forms of forced labor.

In CWWM’s vision and mission, the voice and concerns of migrants are central to the discourse on migration. Events have been organized by CWWM to listen to migrants characterize their plight, analyze their situation, and identify forms of accompaniment and advocacy that are relevant and most effective in dealing with migration, especially but not exclusively, forced migration. CWWM intentionally engages public policy actors in all levels—local, national, international and multilateral, including the United Nations, to seek just and durable solution to migration. The export of migrant labor is a major concern as with development justice—the notion that migration is inextricably linked to human rights, sustainability and social justice. CWWM contributes critical theological perspectives and ethical positions on migration that begins with the affirmation of the human dignity of all migrants and securing such dignity by asserting that all human rights are migrant rights.