Note: Please find below the narrative of the Regional Conference on Development and Diaspora in and from Asia Pacific. You may find the photo album at our Facebook Page (FB Name: @apmigrants)
Report on the Regional Conference on Development and Diaspora in and from Asia Pacific
Quezon City, Philippines | September 14-15, 2019
Twenty-five (25) participants from 12 countries and country regions participated in the Regional Conference on Development and Diaspora in and from Asia Pacific to discuss the issues confronting diaspora communities in host countries as well as those in their home countries (origin countries) that have caused diaspora and problem in relation to need for return. For two days, participants, majority of whom were members of diaspora, shared the realities that they face, including challenges in organizing, through a series of sessions followed by workshops in which issues, insights and ways forward were distilled. In the final plenary, participants engaged in vibrant conversations on the concept of diaspora, its relation to forced displacement, its intersections with other issues, as well as identifying recommendations that include reaching out to broader diaspora communities, organizing young people, and creating opportunities for their engagement.
The Regional Conference on Development and Diaspora in and from Asia Pacific, organized by the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, gathered 25 participants across Asia Pacific and other global regions to discuss and identify development concerns of diaspora in and from the Asia Pacific region.
Participating in the conference were representatives of migrant associations, trade unions, migrants’ rights advocacy groups, institutions and organizations providing support to migrants, refugees, returned migrants, and families of migrants, faith-based institutions, and academia. Ten of the participants were women and the rest (15) were men. Countries and regions represented were Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya, Zambia, and the United States of America. Majority of the participants were part of the diaspora community in the countries they came from. One participant, a Rohingya holding a refugee document in Japan, could not make it to the conference due to visa issues.
The conference was composed of: (1) sessions in which participants shared about the situation of diaspora in their respective countries, their issues and the challenges the presenters are faced with in organizing the diaspora, and analysis of diaspora from the perspective of those coming from the origin countries; (2) workshops to identify issues and concerns of diaspora in the current host countries, in the origin countries, and the challenges of return (to the origin countries); and (3) synthesis of major discussion points, unities reached in terms of analysis and perspectives on the issues of diaspora and ways forward.
Rev. Marie Sol Villalon, vice chairperson of the APMM’s board and member of the Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIHMAT), welcomed the participants to the conference. In her speech, she stated the importance of having a deeper understanding of the situation of migrants wherever we are at in order for organizers, advocates and communities to come up with ways in which we can work with them on issues they are faced with.
Joanna Concepcion, the youngest chairperson of Migrante International and herself part of the Filipino diaspora in USA, likewise welcomed the participants. Concepcion expressed the importance of the diaspora being involved in the ongoing conversation on international migration.
Aaron Ceradoy, general manager of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, opened the conference by encouraging participants to engage in an open conversation on diaspora in and from the region, particularly how the participants view the term diaspora itself as well as how diaspora go through life in various countries, how they relate to the people in those countries, what they think of the country where they came from and how they relate to it, and the experiences and challenges they have in organizing diaspora. Through the conference, Ceradoy hoped that through the conference we are able to contribute to the strengthening of the migrant movement in the Asia Pacific by initiating a grassroots conversation on one of the most important themes and sectors within the displaced peoples – the diaspora.
Sonny Africa, executive director of Ibon Foundation, in his presentation entitled “Neoliberalism, Migration and Underdevelopment”, discussed the systemic problems confronting the world’s people today. He presented the history of how neoliberal globalization policies have contributed to the distortion and destruction of economies, the growth of the world’s poor (currently at 2.7 billion) and the ongoing mass displacement of peoples. The gross inequity in the world can be seen through the accumulated wealth owned by 1% of the world’s population (valued at US$149 trillion, or 47% of the world assets) continuing to grow as opposed to the 1.9% (valued at US$6 trillion) owned by the poorest 64%.
He mentioned the push and pull factors to forced migration, stating domestic economic crises, poverty and unemployment as the push factors for people in developing countries to migrate as well as first world labor exploitation in developed countries (countries of migrant destination or host countries), in which migrant labor continues to be made cheap and used to cheapen labor force. He also stated that while migrants contribute to the economies of the host countries, they remain exploited and treated far less.
In his conclusion, Africa stated that we use the language that the drivers of neoliberal globalization use in addressing the problems they have caused, i.e. poverty, forced migration, labor exploitation, but using our own lens or perspective. On the issue of managing migration, we need to challenge the proponents by asking if the methods are socially inclusive, protecting migrants and promoting decent work agenda. In the final analysis, Africa said, one cannot humanize capitalism and that problems caused by it can be resolved through building a more equitable, socially inclusive and ecologically sound economic system.
Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, could not make it to the conference but shared her presentation, which put premium on building movement of migrants to address both the urgent issues confronting them and the long-term struggle to resolve forced migration. Lestari stated how the IMA was built on the collected strength and experience of migrant organizations, unions and associations across the globe and how the members of the IMA build solidarity with one another amidst differences in situation and status. The current trend of migration, according to Lestari, is forced and is a system of maldevelopment. Development, she furthered, can only happen and be genuine when majority of the world’s people and not a few experience it, benefit from it, and are involved in the process of achieving it.
Succeeding the opening were a series of sessions from the different countries, the summary of each is as follows:
Two participants provided presentations on the situation of diaspora in Australia: Jane Brock, a Filipina marriage migrant who is a naturalized Australian citizen and part of the International Women SpeakOut Association, and Umesh Perinpanayagam, a New Zealand citizen of Tamil descent and part of the Tamil Refugee Council.
Over 25% of Australia’s population was born overseas, with most people immigrating from India, United Kingdom, China, South Africa and Philippines. Issues confronting diaspora are discrimination and racism, specifying that neither education and work experience of migrants is recognized in Australia, and that those born overseas are more likely to experience higher rates of racism than those born in Australia. Other government policies impacting on diaspora communities are the two-year waiting period before migrants can access Newstart Allowance (benefits given to unemployed people in Australia aged 22 or above), limited access to affordable housing, and no wage increase for the past ten years despite price hikes of food, goods and services, and rent in accommodation. Brock suggested that the Australian government recognizes as part of the migrants’ qualifications the latter’s educational background, training and work experiences from their home countries or overseas, increase wages for all workers, and remove barriers to equitable distribution of wealth. She also mentioned the importance of protecting migrant organizers from vilification campaigns as in the case of Filipino migrant associations being tagged as communist fronts.
In Umesh’s presentation, asylum seekers in Australia face more difficulties, especially those who arrive irregularly. Between 2009 and 2013 there were around 40,000 arrivals by sea, 25% of whom are Tamils. They now can only receive temporary protection visas and cannot reunite with their families. In 2013 the Australian government started using its military to stop boats arriving. For Tamil asylum seekers, their arrival followed the mass killings and imprisonment of Tamils with destruction of the Tamil de-facto state run by the Tamil Tigers in 2009 by the Sri Lankan government. The Australian government contributed to US-led efforts to undermine the successful peace process between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers which began in 2002, for example by harassing and arresting members of the Tamil diaspora in Australia beginning 2005 and supporting the Government of Sri Lanka militarily and diplomatically. There are various on-going campaigns to challenge Australia’s policies towards asylum seekers who arrived by sea, such the campaign around Priya, Nades and their children.
Dennis Maga, general secretary of First Union, the second biggest union in New Zealand, started his presentation by saying that labor migration is a trade union issue. Pacific Islanders comprise the biggest section of New Zealand diaspora and have the inherent right to become citizens of New Zealand. According to Maga, 60% of the First Union members are Pacific Islanders. As for non-Pacific Island diaspora communities, majority of them are from the Philippines, United Kingdom, India, China and South Africa. As for the Filipino diaspora, large-scale movement of Filipino migration was recorded in the early 2000s even if Filipinos have been coming to the country since the 1950s. In the 1980s, more Filipino women came in as marriage migrants. Maga highlighted social inequality as the main issue confronting diasporas – from accessing better employment opportunities to the changing immigration landscape that may affect the diaspora and their families adversely. He ended by re-stating that labor migration as a trade union issue because for them, it is all about decent work and that trade unionists should struggle for it as a continuing fight against social inequality.
Shekh Almamun, senior vice chairman of Migrant Trade Union (affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) and a Korean citizen of Bangladeshi descent, shared the history of how Bangladeshis have become part of the Korean diaspora. In the 1980s, Bangladeshis were part of the migrant labor force hired to become household workers and factory workers. The policy then of the Korean government has made it difficult for many of the migrant workers to exercise their rights, particularly transfer to another company even without the approval of their current employers, which pushed many of the migrants to become undocumented. Farm workers on the other hand are not considered workers but as farmers, hence excluded from labor standards and are usually overworked and underpaid. Violent crackdowns of undocumented migrants have also been recorded and are likely to continue. Shekh stated while marriage migrants are a big part of the Korean society, no legislative policy has been made to protect them from domestic abuse and other forms of exploitation. Shekh pointed out the importance of the solidarity that various migrant and diaspora organizations build among one another stating that they are all migrants who need to struggle for equality, recognition of their presence and protection of their rights in the Korean society.
Candice Adams, a member of Section Juan, an organization composed of Filipinos born and/or raised in Hong Kong, shared the realities confronting Filipino youth in the territory. According to Hong Kong census, Filipinos are the third-biggest non-Chinese community in Hong Kong, following India and Nepal. Majority of the Filipino permanent residents work in the following industries: customer service, food and entertainment, education, marketing and technical assistance. For her presentation, Candice and several of her peers from Section Juan conducted a simple survey among Filipino youth, focusing on the struggles that they face in the city, what it means to be a Filipino in Hong Kong, and the issues they have with regard to returning to the Philippines. Top three issues confronting Filipino youth in Hong Kong were social acceptance, language barrier and racial stereotyping. According to one respondent, even if they have grown up in Hong Kong and consider themselves as local, they feel like “considered a tourist”. Majority of the respondents struggle through systemic discrimination – from having limited access to public education, receiving lower salaries despite capacity and work experience, and being “out-of-place”. Studying in the Philippines does not help because a degree earned in the Philippines is not recognized in Hong Kong, and therefore many of the youth do not get the job associated with the degree they studied for.
Luisito Pongos, a Filipino migrant worker in Japan and affiliated with the Japanese Lawyers for International Solidarity (JALISA), stated that as of 2018, Japan has 2.78 million foreign residents (around 1.99 % of the total population). Majority of the non-Japanese ethnic groups living in Japan are from Asia. Around 65-75% of the diaspora are women – marriage migrants and custodial parents of children with Japanese fathers. Around 770,000, or 27.7% of the diaspora, are permanent residents whereas 52.5% are workers. Issues and concerns of diaspora in Japan include settlement and citizenship, labor, human trafficking and domestic violence, and lack or absence of government support. Being a permanent resident in Japan is no assurance of security as the status can be easily revoked even at the slightest infraction, e.g. traffic violation. There is an ongoing campaign for a Filipino marriage migrant whose permanent resident status was immediately revoked and may face deportation because she unintentionally gave an incorrect information about her husband. Asylum seekers in Japan are likewise many but the chances of their application being granted is very small. Many Filipinos, according to Pongos, want to go back to the Philippines but if asked when, they are unsure because of the socio-economic problems besetting the said country. In terms of organizing, it is challenging to organize the diaspora because of the high demand at work (many are overworked), they are spread throughout the country, and for the women, being tied to the highly patriarchal setup of Japan. He did mention though that efforts to organize have been successful with the formation of AMMORE Japan, an association of marriage migrants, and a few other migrant organizations.
Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, an association working on the issue of migration and works closely with migrant workers in the country, began her presentation with asking who is diaspora. In the Malaysian context, she said, one is confronted with three main ethnic groups, the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians, the history of each coming into and settling in Malaysia varies from one another. At some point, the Chinese and Indians were called colonial migrants, “Pendatang” or immigrants. They are not part of the Bumiputera (meaning People of the Land), a title granted to the natives of Malaysia and later on to Malays. The Bumiputera have many privileges that the non-Bumiputera (Chinese, Indians and other nationalities) do not have, e.g. entering public universities or schools. Hence, the problems confronting non-Bumiputera in Malaysia are the same problems confronting other diaspora in Malaysia, if not worse. In addition, Malaysia is home to many undocumented migrants, stateless peoples, and asylum seekers. Their situation makes them more vulnerable to labor exploitation and abuse, trafficking, and other violations.
Anisur Rahman Khan, executive director of IMA Research Foundation, stated that Bangladesh has over 12 million nationals living and working in 165 destination countries. According to Khan, Bangladesh’s development rests on the contribution of the Bangladeshi migrants and diaspora and for this reason, the Bangladesh government has taken development programs for them, i.e. quota in industrial zone, priority to privatization, housing quota, encourage investing any financial sector with special consideration. Some of the challenges that Khan highlighted in relation to the Bangladesh diaspora are the absence of an online database containing information about long-term migrants, difficulties they face in gathering information or assisting long-term migrants who may not have a legal permit to stay in their countries of residence, and keeping the Bangladeshi diaspora interested and contributing to the initiatives of the Bangladesh government. As the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh was considered a social problem, the conference participants urged that more than being perceived as a problem, it would be better for the Bangladeshi civil society to provide direct support for the Rohingya refugees while changing the narrative, which should favor the latter.
Karsiwen of Kabar Bumi, an organization working with and for returning Indonesian migrants and families of migrants in Indonesia, stated that the world is home to around 9 million Indonesian diaspora. Forty percent (40%) of the said diaspora are women and work in the domestic sector. Karsiwen stated that she used to be a domestic worker in Hong Kong and went back to Indonesia after deciding to marry and raise a family. Karsiwen highlighted that the lack of a government database makes it difficult for them to figure out where overseas Indonesians go to work or reside. She also mentioned low wages, lack of services or assistance, labor exploitation and social exclusion as some of the problems confronting Indonesian diaspora. In organizing diaspora, Karsiwen stated that campaigns are a good method to bring various sectors together to pay attention, make public, and gather support for the situation of Indonesian diaspora. Kabar Bumi has been working towards organizing Indonesian returnees as well as the families of migrants. They provide education and awareness campaigns, attend to immediate concerns, and create opportunities for the migrant community to work with other organizations, local government and other sectors in Indonesia.
Joanna Concepcion of Migrante International laid down the reasons that force Filipinos to separate from their families and find work abroad – high unemployment rate coupled with policies that contractualise labor, depress wages and curb workers’ rights, landlessness and the culture of impunity that suppresses the freedoms and rights of people, state violence and anti-poor policies. While the Philippine government does not acknowledge its labor export policy that systematically facilitates the movement of Filipino labor overseas, it has over the years developed government agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas that attend to overseas Filipinos. Currently, there are 10.45 million Filipinos living and working in over 239 countries and territories. Concepcion relayed the situation particularly of Filipino diaspora in the US. First, economic issues confronting the Filipino diaspora is that they are largely low-income and are in the service and healthcare sector. Homelessness is a concern in which many families live in one household. Political involvement is limited as there is lack of representation in government, pathway towards citizenship is arduous, and that anti-immigrant policies have become more stringent. Many second-generation Filipino youth, or Filipinos born in the US, do not feel they belong to the US, experience racism and discrimination, and searching for a Filipino identity. Concepcion, however, made mention how the Filipino diaspora in the US have been involved in labor and social movements, forged solidarity with other ethnic minorities, specifically the Mexican and Latin American diaspora, and asserting recognition and protection. Several Filipino organizations and institutions in the US have been campaigning against human labor trafficking while assisting Filipinos who have fallen victims to such. She also highlighted the ongoing campaign that Migrante International has on Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina victim of drug trafficking in Indonesia.
Prof. Steven Osuna, a member of the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families and also of the International Migrants Alliance USA chapter, said that the US is “not a nation of immigrants, but rather a nation of exploited labor of migrants, of slave labor.” Recent moves of the Trump administration only worsen the already volatile situation that many immigrants and their families are in. Detention of immigrant children has been rampant, private detention centers have become more profitable, and hostility towards migrants has become more apparent since Donald Trump took office as president. Osuna, however, pointed out that the hostility towards migrants has been happening even before Trump’s time. The first anti-immigrant laws, for instance, were issued against the Chinese diaspora in the early years of America. He also pointed out that the militarization of the US southwest border has been happening since the time of President Clinton and it was only under Trump that more money is being invested in its fortification. No one is safe under the Trump administration as anyone can be targeted for arrest, detention and deportation. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is under direct supervision of US Homeland Security and has complete autonomy. Osuna also shared how he was organized. Of Salvadoran and Mexican descent, Osuna was organized through a youth group, with which he realized the importance of understanding why they are in the US, the role they need to play in extending solidarity within diaspora and other people in the US, and also strengthening this solidarity with migrant and peoples movements outside the US.
Workshops and Synthesis
Two workshops were conducted, the first of which focused on the issues and needs of diaspora in host countries while the second focused on issues resulting to diaspora and the challenges of return. The participants were divided into two groups to discuss the following questions, but with each one determining a rapporteur to document the major points of the discussions and report back after the session has been finished. The questions are as follows:
For Workshop 1 – Identifying issues and needs of diaspora in host countries
(a) What are the outstanding issues confronting diaspora in their host countries? Can the issues be categorized or classified into various sections? What are the specifics of these issues?
(b) What are common among the issues of diaspora in various host countries? If there are country-specific issues, what are they?
(c) Once the issues are identified, what responses or actions should we take in addressing them? Do we have specific demands or positions on the issues? What are recommended actions or ways forward to resolve the issues?
For Workshop 2 – Identifying issues resulting to diaspora and the challenges of return
(a) What are the outstanding issues confronting diaspora in relation to their home countries? If possible, what are the main categories or classifications of these issues?
(b) What are demands or positions of diaspora in relation to these issues?
(c) What are recommended actions or ways forward to address these issues?
After the workshop groups have reported after, major points that came out of the discussions were distilled and presented to the participants for deliberation, synthesis and agreement. The vibrant conversations during the plenary led to the following unities in terms of analysis and ways forward.
Unities in Analysis
- We are all diaspora. After much discussion, everyone agreed that diaspora pertains to anyone and everyone who has migrated regardless of their status or condition. Diaspora can be classified into four: a) those with permanent status, b) those with temporary status but can apply for permanent status (e.g. asylum seekers and refugees), c) temporary migrants, and d) undocumented (including stateless children). There is recognition of the class perspective on the issue of diaspora. In certain conversation threads, diaspora are those with white-collar jobs, have permanent status, and would often call themselves expatriates differentiating themselves from migrants who usually have blue-collar jobs, receive lower salaries, and lower in economic standing. While distinctions among diaspora are acknowledged, it is far more important to reach out, organize build solidarity especially among the more vulnerable sections of the diaspora.
- The issue of diaspora is an issue of forced displacement. The presence of diaspora in developed countries exemplifies the structural roots of displacement – from the period of colonization to wars of occupation and aggression, to the imposition of neoliberal policies by developed country governments on developing country governments. Neoliberal globalization and war have caused massive unemployment, poverty, landlessness and environmental degradation displacing people en masse and forcing them to go in other countries only to become cheap labor force. The commodification, exploitation and forced docility of migrant labor is necessary for an economic system that is proft-driven.
- The duality of diaspora issues presents the issues confronting them in the host countries (where they are currently residing) and in the home countries (where they came from). Relevant to the root causes of forced migration and displacement, the problems besetting people in developing countries are the reasons with which people are forced to find “greener pastures” overseas and the same reasons which blur the certainty of them coming back. Economic and political conditions (including authoritarianism, fascism and impunity) have barred people from coming back to their home countries. On the other hand, problems in relation to integration in the host countries (e.g. access to social services including health and education, better employment opportunities) coupled with systemic racism, discrimination and exploitation confront the diaspora communities. There is lack of accountability on both host and home country governments when it comes to ensuring the protection of migrants and their families, weaponization or the scapegoating and eventual attack of migrants and diaspora especially in periods of economic crisis, and regard of human life and dignity in general. It is important that from our perspective, by our own terms and realities we sterilize, claim and define the language and the conversations on migration, development and human rights.
- Organizing diaspora is important in the building and strengthening of the global migrant movement.
a. To do this, we need to map diaspora communities across Asia Pacific and other global regions, identifying their ethnic backgrounds, class divisions, socio-economic and political conditions. Organizing young members of diaspora is vital as their political awareness and involvement has contributed to the strengthening of movements and communities in host countries and linking these movements to movements, organizations and communities back in their home countries.
b. Just as we are organizing diaspora and their families in host countries, we likewise need to put premium in organizing their families in the home countries as well as those who have returned home for good. In some countries, migrant organizations have included all classifications of the diaspora and have become effective in conducting campaigns and initiatives.
c. Unifying the networks and alliance of diaspora on a common development agenda is key in building the global movement of diaspora. It is important as well to link the movement of diaspora with the people’s movements in their respective home countries.
d. We should work toward building solidarity between diaspora communities and local peoples, especially with marginalized and oppressed sectors in the host countries.
- Address the root causes of forced displacement. Working towards a society in which forced migration is a thing of the past may be difficult to achieve but it is not impossible.
a. With this in mind, we need to raise awareness among diaspora communities about the problems and issues they are confronted with, capacitate them in existing policies, conventions and laws that they can use to further their campaigns and demands. Corollarily, it is important to identify, expose and oppose policies that may be detrimental to the interests and rights of diaspora and use various avenues, including intergovernmental platforms and processes such as the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, to challenge and even campaign for the rescind of these policies.
b. Participation of diaspora communities in development discourses is important. Racist or discriminatory regulations and practices should be challenged in all levels (from local to national to regional to international) for members of diaspora organizations to be first, present, and second, effectively participate in international conversations and processes. This is one way to engage with governments and corporations that have historical involvement in neoliberal policies and agreements that cause and exacerbate the problems behind forced migration.
c. Specifically, for the conference, it is crucial that the results of the conference be re-echoed to members of respective organizations and include in these re-echo sessions diaspora communities, trade unions, local organizations and advocates, among others. It is also recommended that dialogues among diaspora communities be started at the local level to continue and deepen the discussion on the issues confronting them and linking these issues to development concerns, among others.