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Contribution from Weng Flores from Umangat-MIGRANTE Rome to the second Conference of Lampedusa in Hamburg

Struggle for our rights as migrants and refugees, end imperialist exploitation and oppression!

SPEECH at Second Conference on Libyan War Refugees in Hamburg - 8 February 2014

Dear fellow migrants, refugees, and friends from Caravan:

In behalf of our organization – Umangat-MIGRANTE in Rome, and the International Migrants Alliance-Europe chapter, (IMA-Europe) we express our warmest and heartfelt solidarity with your event today and with the just struggle of refugees spearheaded by the Libyan war refugees and the Caravan here in Germany.

I have been requested to share with you our experiences and standpoint on the issue of forced migration, the issue of refugees in Europe, the situation of Filipino and other migrants in Europe, and how we can resist the continuing imperialist-instigated wars mainly by the US and its NATO allies in Europe.

Lampedusa is not simply the horrendous event that happened recently in October where over 368 migrants were burned and drowned into the sea, but a painful icon of the plight of migrants, like me, who succumbed to a situation of no choice but to leave because of the imperialist aggression against our countries. I will first share with you the situation in the Philippines - why many Filipinos are being forced to migrate and then, the concrete situation in Italy particularly the exploitation of migrants and oppression of refugees.

Roots of forced migration in the Philippines

To be able to understand why almost three thousand Filipinos leave the Philippines everyday to seek work abroad, one has to understand that the Philippines suffers from foreign domination, landlessness, underdevelopment, and a corrupt elite political structure controlled by a handful of political clans.

By the end of 2013, an additional 1.7 million Filipinos have been forced to go abroad by sheer lack of opportunities, decent jobs and wages and livelihood in the country; that makes a total of over 12 million Filipinos working abroad. A record high of 7.3% unemployment rate, the highest among Asian countries. At least one-fourth of the country’s labor force has gone abroad to find work. One in every four Filipino workers was either jobless or underemployed.

In Europe, there are more than 800,000 Filipino migrants, mostly women. In Italy, Filipino migrants (127,243) make the sixth largest foreign population group, behind Romania , Albania , Morocco , China , and Ukraine. The first to the fifth largest groups respectively.

The Filipino people are being forced to migrate because of poverty and desperation - poverty borne out of the structural causes of underdevelopment which is the neo-liberal globalisation policies of advanced capitalist countries.

Liberalization, deregulation and privatization are imposed on the people. This caused de-industrialization, the collapse of local industries, causing massive unemployment. It promoted unhindered plunder of natural resources , destruction of the environment, sale of state assets at bargain price to profit-oriented transnational corporations, making basic services far beyond the reach of the majority. In the name of the US-led "war on terror" state repression is used against those advocating for people's development, defense of national patrimony and sovereignty and social transformation.

As progressive migrant Filipinos, we believe that to genuinely address the problem of forced migration, the government should decisively deviate from the past and present governments’ labor export policy and focus instead on developing the national economy by advancing local industries, agriculture and basic services. We fully support the call and struggle for national industrialization and genuine land reform as the ultimate solution to the problem of forced migration and labor export program. Only through taking steps in building the domestic economy and ensuring social welfare intervention can joblessness and forced migration be truly addressed.

Furthermore, wars, specifically imperialist-instigated wars, result in deaths, destruction, chaos, orphans and refugees. Imperialists instigate wars in a futile attempt to resolve their crises that the very system of capitalist greed, exploitation and oppression breeds. Imperialist wars destroy countries and its people in order to plunder a country's resources. In the case of the Middle East, of Iraq and Libya, the objectives is to appropriate the oil resources. The imperialist-formation that is the European Union, do not have any moral justification to violate the rights of migrants and refugees presently inside the EU. In fact, the EU should be made to account for its war crimes, crimes against humanity, against migrants, against refugees, against European citizens who themselves are victimized by the few elite and greedy ruling capitalist classes that have long imposed their will on the exploited and oppressed majority.

Organizing Filipino migrants in Italy

Confronting these issues - these root causes of migration - entails a lot of energy, patience, endurance, consistency and militancy in organizing and mobilizing our migrant compatriots. Aware of the present social fragmentation and disintegration where organizing and mobilization among our ranks is always a big challenge, we as Filipino migrant workers are fully RESOLVE that only through a united and consistent struggle will we be able to win our battles.

Umangat-Migrante Rome, a Filipino militant migrant organization and a founding member of the IMA Europe section, believes and upholds that the real solution to the problem of forced migration lies in addressing the root causes of the problem: massive poverty and imperialist development aggression. This will be realized after a continuous consciousness raising among Filipino migrant workers, conducting a critical study of society, launching organized action and mass campaigns on Philippine national and sectoral and migrant issues, organizing of Filipino migrants and forming alliances with organisations of the host people and migrants of other nationalities.

We have launched mass campaigns in Italy on issues that affect the rights and welfare of migrants and against anti-migrant and anti-people laws and repressive acts of the government. We have taken to various forms of struggle: protest rallies, marches, educational meetings, petition signing, fora, cultural presentations, lobbying and advocacy. We have provide information, analysis on issues affecting us as migrants and the struggle for freedom and democracy of the Filipino people and the anti-imperialist struggles of other peoples. We use multi-media forms: we have a newsletter , a website and our own radio station. We have organized mobilizations among our ranks against oppressive migrant laws in Italy like (e.g. Pachetto di Sicurezza). We have joined in tactical alliances with local, national and international organizations to cooperate on issues , to generate support and solidarity, sometimes in finances and logistics. We have conducted lobby/dialogues with Philippine and Italian authorities on many migrant issues.

The predicament of refugees in Europe: the Lampedusa tragedy as a wake-up call

Many of you have been familiar with the recent tragedy that happened in Lampedusa- a former paradise island turned into hell by the Italian military protagonist of the FRONTEX mission of EU. Let me refresh what had happened in October on the Itlaian coast of Lampedusa which is only one of the many shameless consequences of the inhumane policies of the EU towards refugees .

On the 3rd of October 2013, a few miles from the island of Lampedusa, 368 Eritrean women, men and children travelling from Libya by boat which caught fire and sank off the coast, perished in their desperate attempt to run away from sponsored wars in their homeland in order to reach Europe with hopes of finding a better life not only economically but above all a life with dignity. A few days later and in the same waters, the sea swallowed hundreds of people coming from Syria. Survivors who made it to the land were greeted with the worst nightmare in their lives at the reception center of Lampedusa where they were held "captives" for more than 100 days in such an inhumane condition. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an estimated 35,000 people have crossed from North Africa to Italy and Malta in 2013 alone - many of them fleeing persecution or fighting in Somalia, Eritrea and Syria. At least 500 died, including the 368 people who were drowned on Oct. 3. In the last twenty years, an estimated 17,000 migrants and asylum seekers have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean.

International and European law requires states to ensure that people intercepted or rescued at sea who seek asylum, can gain access to territory and to an asylum procedure where their international protection needs or claims can be examined. (cf. UNHCR). What happened on October 3 is only one among the series of incidents in the recent past that gained serious criticisms and condemnations with no less than State and Church hierarchs. Pope Francis described the Lampedusa incident as ‘a disgrace’, while the Italian government granted citizenship to the deceased and held a state funeral for them. As for the survivors, however, they must endure a long application process for asylum and possibly even face a €5,000 fine if the court declares them as illegal immigrants. In April, UN special rapporteur Crépeau criticized Italy’s immigration detention system, including substandard conditions, inadequate access to justice and safeguards for “quick returns”. This sparked a lot of protest and the so-called revolts of refugees in various detention centers known as the Center for Identification and Deportation (CIE). cf. HRW Report 2104

Detention centers for immigrants (CIE) are instruments of corruption of some public officials, private allies and business cohorts. The precarious situation of the traumatized survivors of Lampedusa last October immediately after they were saved, demonstrate not only the lack of necessary medical and psychological assistance but lack of concern for their plight. Instead of rendering trauma debriefing, they were immediately subjected to control if they have the legal documents. Moreover, out of 169,126 migrants (mostly refugees) from 1998-2012 only 78,081 (46.2%) were processed and repatriated. Many were still detained without having access to formal process and right information. (cf. Rapporto Immigrazione 2014)

Why is it so? What sparks the revolts and protests not only among the asylum seekers but also among concerned and militant organizations? To unveil the shroud that covers the truth behind these revolts and protest, which is often subjected to prejudice and xenophobic attitudes of the locals against the migrants, allow me to briefly go over and analyze the Italian laws or policies on migration.

Italy’s current migration policies are shaped by the 1998 Consolidated Act on Immigration (Testo Unico sull’ Immigrazione), as amended by the 2002 “Bossi-Fini Law”. These laws are informed by three key principles.

  • Regulation of entry flows. The annual number of migrant workers (by nationality) admitted is capped (relative quotas) and determined in a governmental decree called Decreto Flussi (flows decree).
  • Issuance of residence permit (contratto di soggiorno) is dependent on the existence of a written contract of employment, as guaranteed by the employer prior to his/her arrival.
  • Expulsion of irregular migrants. Since 2009 (Security Package law), criminalization (punishable by detention and expulsion) is the only available institutional response to irregular entry and stay. (cf. AI, Exploited Labor 2012)

In simple term, this law is primarily based on paranoia and baseless fears of security threats allegedly often perpetrated by migrants and at the same time a legal instrument used by them to exploit labor for their own advantage. Moreover, the law became the milking cows of corrupt public officials and their private cohorts who administer these centers. That is why they termed it as Pacchetto di Sicurezza (Security Package) that made illegal immigration (absence of sufficient documents of entry) a punishable offence. The law allows citizen anti-crime patrols (such as the Ronda in Turin) in towns and cities and triples the amount of time illegal immigrants can be detained in holding centers from 2 to 6 months and now to 18 months. Under the provisions, people entering Italy without permission face fines of up to 10,000 euros and immediate expulsion. Anyone renting housing to an illegal immigrant faces up to 3 years of imprisonment as well. It even constricts physicians to report to authorities when an undocumented patient comes for check-up, though that provision had been abrogated later. It deliberately linked immigration control with public security, reinforcing the public perception that the country’s security is threatened by an uncontrollable wave of dangerous “clandestine” migration.

Moreover, criminalization of clandestine migration regardless of motives is also compounded by xenophobia and stigmatization. The xenophobic and often racist behavior of some political organizations - Northern League (LN), People’s Freedom Party (PDL), and the fascist organizations Casapound and Forza Nuova) and the media has shaped the sentiments of the general public. Worst of all, for those who were released from detention, they bear the brunt of gross labor exploitation and forcedly submit themselves to inhuman living conditions. This provoked the migrants to defend themselves and at certain times demonstrate their strength and dignity through spontaneous “revolt” and protests to make their voices heard.

Just to cite some incidents that took place in the past 3 years. (cf. Struggles in Italy blog)

  • On January 7, 2010, two African agricultural workers who came to Rosarno, Calabria to harvest oranges were wounded by gunfire from a car. This racist exaction triggered the anger of hundreds of working class immigrants. They gathered spontaneously to protest. Demonstrators clashed with police, burning garbage cans, cars, smashing shop windows. Witch-hunts were organized by locals against immigrant workers; some were hit by cars others were beaten by sticks. One of the leaders of the spontaneous movement said: “You know how many times I was treated like shit just because I’m a Moroccan ? We are men and not animals, no one has the right to shoot us. Enough is enough, we demand rights ”

These workers were earning about 25 euros for a day’s work of 8-10 hours and lived in condemned buildings and makeshift shelters without running water, electricity or heating. They were often recruited by gang masters (caporali) who would charge them up to 5 euros everyday for transport to and from the orange groves. In most cases, salaries are delayed by months.

A comment posted on a blog said:
“But in fact this represents an authentic proletarian revolt against the bestial exploitation which is and has always been the norm in the agricultural sector, regardless of varying degrees of involvement by legal or illegal organizations to impose bourgeois capitalist exploitation. Revolt against injustice and inhumane conditions is not a sign of desperation and lack of prospects, this revolt is instead a necessary first step to combat despair and lack of prospects. It is a fact that immigrant workers, through their revolt, find themselves facing the perspective of the revival of the old tradition of the great struggles of farm workers in Italy.” (cf. struggles in italy).

  • Another example.
    On December 10, 2011 the pogrom at Torino. It all had started from a lie, and ended up in a fire. A 16 years old girl, living nearby the new stadium, told her parents that she was raped by two persons and that they were probably Roms living in a camp in the same area. The newspaper “La Stampa” immediately published the news on the first page of its web local edition. Some verbs were in conditional form, but the title and the tone of the whole article were fully affirmative. In the late afternoon, many people gathered to march to the Rom’s camp, with some members of Democratic Party (PD), a center-left party. It should have been just a protest march, but the ever-growing racism against Rom people turned it into an authentic pogrom, ending with the whole camp on fire. Surprised by this explosion of violence, the girl finally admitted that her account was false, and that she had just had consensual sex with a friend.

Recent case studies on labor exploitation in Italy conducted by Amnesty International (2012) reveals a pattern of labor exploitation of migrant workers particularly in the agricultural sector. It discloses a causal link between labor exploitation of migrant workers and the current migration laws and policies adopted by the Italian government across Italy.

Some cases of exploitation are worth to be mentioned:

  1. Seasonal permits system. Some of the workers claimed that they have to spend almost up to 10,000 euros in order to obtain the “nulla osta” (employment authorization) before their entry to Italy. This is always meddled by smugglers (traffickers) in cooperation with their would be employer in Italy. An Indian migrant worker said that he paid 300,000 rupees (4,300 euros) in order to get the “nulla osta” and upon his arrival in Italy he spent another 1,000 euro to obtain the seasonal work contract. Another said that he paid around 1 million rupees (14,300 euros) in exchange of a visa, long-term residence permit and a job but when he arrived in Italy he got only a seasonal residence permit.
  2. Migrant workers in the informal economy (lavoro nero). Migrant workers who didn’t obtain the necessary documents in order to survive resorted to be employed in the informal economy particularly in farms as fruit pickers. A migrant worker from Togo, told that they have to work from 6 to 6 (12 hours), every day for 20 euros a day. They are not allowed to take breaks, not even for eating and so they only eat the oranges on the trees. They agreed to be paid for 25 euros/day, however, the guy who is bringing them to the farm is charging them 5 euros for the transportation. More often salaries are delayed by 5-6 months. While a regular migrant worker in Italy earns at least a minimum of 6 euros per hour for 6 hours with an hour of break, they (irregular) under such a harsh condition has to survive in an inhuman way because they are exploited and treated like slaves. They are always subjected to coercive tactics of their employers by threatening them to be reported to authorities.

    The study concluded, “under the current Italian migration policy, there is no legal way for migrant workers who are already in Italy irregularly to obtain a residence permit for contracted or seasonal work. Migrant workers cannot apply for a residency visa without the cooperation of their employer. However, even when the employer is willing to conclude a “residence contract” with an irregular migrant, residence permits for contracted or seasonal work cannot legally be issued to migrant workers who are already in Italy irregularly. Irregular migrant workers, therefore, have no choice but to work in the informal economy, as undeclared workers.” (cf. Amnesty Intl)

The current migration law/s in Italy are clear violations to the protection of migrant workers’ rights as enshrined in the international laws such as the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Italy ratified in 1978. It violates the principle of equality and non-discrimination between nationals and migrant workers. Some of these cases according to the Italian law are crimes: irregular migration that will amount to severe punishment (detention, exorbitant fines, deportation); providing aid and assistance such as board and lodging (house rent) to irregular migrants is punishable by house sequestration, 6 months to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 - 50,000 euros; the requirement to demonstrate a valid residence permit before accessing to any health care services in any clinics or hospital (though later it has been abrogated); and the “rejection or refoulement policy” (respingimenti) that allows authorities such as the coast guard to drive them away before docking at any port regardless of the sea condition. International rights assert that,

Thus, fellow migrants, refugees and comrades, in the face of this political, economic and social context here in the EU, we should all the more persevere in our struggle. We are struggling for our basic human rights, for our rights as migrants and as refugees, for our civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. We are struggling for our rights as workers, as farmers, as part of the working people exploited and oppressed by big businesses, multinational corporations, and corporate totalitarians who have succeeded in controlling the economy and politics in Europe, the EU and its member states imposing a virtual dictatorship over everyone – including the European working classes and other exploited economic and social sectors.

While we fight for our rights to be recognized as migrants and refugees in the legal and political arenas, we must not forget the bigger struggle to fight imperialist exploitation and oppression which is causing all the chaos, wars, poverty, economic dislocation and violence not only in the countries where we come from, but also in the EU countries and other lands. We must build the strongest solidarity between and among us migrants and refugees, and between us and other exploited and oppressed peoples in Europe and elsewhere.

Thank you! Long live international solidarity!

Weng Flores
Umangat-MIGRANTE Rome
Rome, Italy
IMA Europe

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