Migrant Situation and Trends in Europe Impacting on Migrant Rights and Welfare

Written by Cesar T. Taguba on .

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I. Introduction

Kakailian ken kakabsa, gagayem tako--- our migrant advocates and friends naimbag ng aldaw yo amin. In my Ibaloi tribal dialect I say, mamapteng dja guara kitadjo siyay dja manaaspol tani mantataval.

You are to be congratulated for placing high in your ACPE agenda the situation and aspirations of the uprooted people of the Cordillera and the Philippines in general. By uprooted people, I mean those who leave their country of birth for other countries due to economic crisis, environmental disasters and armed conflicts. Obviously, most of our compatriots in Europe left our Inang Bayan for economic reasons.

II. General Information on the Situation of Filipinos in Europe

We, Cordillera migrants are part of the 700,000-800,000 million Filipino migrants and immigrants in Europe, 90 per cent of whom are women thus, the growing feminization of outmigration. Many are working in the service sector as domestic helpers, hotel/restaurant workers, health/medical workers, sales personnel, professionals and entrepreneurs. Hundreds work in embassies and UN agencies. Others are students. Most are high school and college graduates. Filipinos are generally held in high regard. In Italy and the Nordic countries, it is considered a status symbol and a sign of “elegance” to have a Filipino domestic helper.

It is safe to estimate that half of the total number are undocumented. A handful compatriots are engaged in anti-social practices like drug use and  trafficking, sex trafficking, gambling and petty crimes.

Recently, two categories of migrants entered Europe. First, are the so-called mail-order brides and second, the nurses who are on work contract particularly in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy. The mail-order brides most of whom are in Germany and Northern Europe, are highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation since in most cases their legal status depends on their husband, until after three to five years. Lately, there are reported cases of contract violation and poor living and working conditions experienced by the newly-recruited nurses. 

Common problems of the domestic helpers are: low wages and/or contract violation; long working hours; discrimination; poor living conditions, excessive collection of consular fees; maltreatment and abuse. Those without document are living in constant fear of arrest and deportation. They are highly vulnerable to exploitation and are in most cases, excluded from the medical/health and social security system and other benefits.

Common among Filipinos abroad is the pain of separation from the family, relatives and a familiar environment. There are reports of undocumented  compatriots not seeing their families for 5-10 years. Migrant couples with children are forced to send their newly- born children back home to enable them to continue working.

Another category of Filipinos abroad is the seamen or seafarers numbering close to 250,000. The Philippines continues to be the number one exporter of seafarers sailing in Flag of Convenience (FOCs) and in cruise ships making port calls in The Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Belgium and the Nordic countries. Most are victims of contract violation abuse and suffer unsafe working and living conditions. Thousands are blacklisted for various reasons, foremost of which is for struggling for their rights and welfare.

Europe continues to be a major destiny for the uprooted peoples from the Philippines. Between 1998-2000, 86,000 were deployed legally as land-based overseas workers in Europe with Italy, UK, Spain, Greece and Cyprus as major destinations.

The Cordillera region is one of the poorest and neglected regions in the Philippines, notwithstanding the exploitation of its abundant mineral, energy and forest resources. Thus, it is safe to conclude that it is one of the regions with the highest number of uprooted peoples. There are people from the Cordillera in almost all major labor-receiving countries in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North America.

What is the trend of outmigration from the Philippines? Alarmingly, the number is increasing. Each day around 2,000-3,000 are queuing in offices and embassies for documents to work abroad.  On the other hand, four to five Filipinos are returned in coffins every day. The official Labor Export Policy (LEP), initiated by the Marcos dictatorship and vigorously implemented by the succeeding administrations, is an acceptance that the government cannot provide employment to its labor force. Recently, more than 400,000 graduated from technical schools, but with no guaranteed jobs commensurate to their training.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government continues to benefit from the more than US$ 4-5 billion remittances annually from around seven million migrants abroad in more than 157 countries.

III. Migrants Rights and Welfare

Before proceeding further, let me strongly stress that migrants including the undocumented, are human and social beings. Thus, migrant rights are human rights. These include the right to: life, dignity, political, civil and economic rights. All, including the undocumented, have the right to the full protection of the law in labor-sending and labor-receiving countries. Specific rights include: the right to residence and work; right to family reunion; right to education; equality/equal treatment; right to change employment.  

IV. Disturbing Trends

The current and dominant trend among policy-makers in Europe is to place migrants and the issue of migrant rights outside the human rights framework. Undocumented migrants are criminalized by calling them “illegals.” They are considered outside the protection of the rule of law and human rights standard. They are treated as a police problem subject to control and punishment. There is also the increasing trend to associate migrants with crime, drugs, disease, AIDS, trafficking. The mass media plays a role in promoting this stereotyping and racial profiling. Migrant workers are pitted against the workers of the host countries.

Lately, we witnessed the electoral victory and increasing influence of political parties advocating anti-migrant policies all over Europe, particularly Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. There is a proposal on the European Union (EU) level to punish NGOs and advocates providing assistance and services for the undocumented.

After the September 11 attack on the USA, rightwing politicians and the media tend to associate migrants and people of color with terrorism.

Forced deportations are taking place. Some migrants died in the process. European governments adopt policies making it difficult for migrants to gain entry legally. Thus, human trafficking is getting to be a multi-billion lucrative industry, victimizing thousands and enriching a few. Meanwhile, there are documented cases of thousands of migrants dying by suffocation, drowning, sickness and abuse enroute to Fortress Europe.

In some countries like Belgium, Greece, Italy and Spain, the government declared amnesty for the undocumented not as a matter of justice, but as a way to improve on the control mechanism and for practical economic considerations.

Some European countries in need of migrant workers such as those in the health service adopt measures to prevent long term and permanent stay and consequently, the right to family reunion. They are, however, dispensable and discarded once the labor market need is met.

It is significant to note that not a single country in Europe ratified the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. On the other hand, the budget of the EU and national governments to finance programs geared at crime control, prevention and punishment, rather than promoting migrant rights and welfare is increasing.

The policy and practice of exclusion instead of inclusion, marginalization instead of integration, criminalization instead of recognition of migrants as social beings, discrimination instead of equality, racism instead of community and humiliation instead of respect, are realities uprooted people experience daily in varying forms and degrees.

Given this bleak scenario, what is the Philippine government’s program and diplomatic moves to protect, advance and uphold migrant rights and welfare? A domestic helper in Rome said, “ the Philippine government through its embassy is more interested in collecting consular fees, promoting tourism, trade and investment, rather than taking pro-active measures to protect the rights and welfare of the migrants.” The same domestic helper observed that migrants are enticed to participate in revenue-collection schemes (housing, medicare, insurance, etc). Except for one or two countries, the Philippines has failed to forge bilateral labor agreement with any of the major labor-receiving countries in Europe.

With a graft-ridden, debt-driven, import-dependent, export oriented, foreign controlled economy and with the continuing political instability, migrants can hardly fulfill their dream of returning home for good. Thus, the uncomfortable feeling of neither being here or there.

V. Signs of Hope

Fortress Europe ruled by big business and suffering from severe economic severe crisis, offers no welcome mat for migrants who are already in and an open door for those wanting to come in. 

However, within Fortress Europe are migrants and members of their families who are uniting and mobilizing to protect, uphold and advance their rights and welfare. They are waging campaigns for the regularization of the undocumented, against sex trafficking, against unjust consular fees and for human rights. They engage in activities for mutual help and to maintain their dignity and promote justice. They undertake cultural and social activities to maintain their identity and links with their roots. As an expression of concern with developments in their Inang bayan, they organize fundraising and political activities in solidarity with their kababayan back home. There are increasing number of migrant organizations actively joining rights and welfare campaigns of other nationalities, and are in solidarity with the workers and people of their host country. 

We, the uprooted peoples have friends and allies among the peoples of Europe. These are the trade unions, churches, NGOs and progressive parties. They campaign for the ratification of the UN Convention by their governments, right of the undocumented, right of women and the 2nd generation. Indeed, there are thousands of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the uprooted peoples in their midst. Their resources and assistance can best be maximized if we, the migrants are organized. Together, we can dream and work for a friendlier Europe for all.

Our ACPE is a sign of hope. It is a gathering for sharing, reflection and envisioning a future amidst Fortress Europe. Our ACPE is an affirmation of our historical and cultural roots. It is an expression of faith in each other and our collective will to shape our own destiny. ACPE is a living testimony of our inalienable right to life. By upholding our human rights we help usher in a society of community, justice and solidarity for all.

VI. Summary and Conclusion

There is a towering and constricting Fortress Europe of big business, TNCs (transnational corporations) and globalizers, who measure the value of people including migrants in terms of super-profits. On the other hand, within this fortress are people reaching out to each other in the spirit of community and solidarity. Let ACPE  be a part of this unfolding human drama and movement. Only then will our stay in Europe have a deeper human and historical dimension. Indeed, we the uprooted people, can contribute to a better world which is possible.




Anderson, B. Britain’s Secret Slaves: An Investigation into the Plight of Domestic Workers in the United Kingdom. Whitstable Litho. UK. 1993.

Proceedings of the International Migrant Conference, “Labor Export and Forced Migration Amidst Globalization” Manila, Philippines, November 4-8, 2001.

IBON Special Issue on the Forced Outmigration, Seafarers, Indigenous Peoples

General Assembly Documents, PICUM (Platform for International Concerns for the Undocumented), Brussels, Belgium.

International Migrants Rights Campaign Kit on the Ratification of the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Country Reports, ECOFIL (Europewide Consultative Assembly of Filipino Organizations), The Hague, 16-18 September 2001.

Publications: Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME); World Council of Churches, UNITED Europe.

Taguba, C.T.  Papers on: “Migrant Struggle in the Era of Globalization”, on the occasion of the anniversary of UMANGAT, Rome, 17 March 2002;  “Justice and Empowerment of Migrants”, General Assembly, SKIN (Churches Together) 2000, The Netherlands.   

Migrant Publications: Pinoy Abroad, Munting Nayon, Balitang Verein, Migrante International.

POEA Factsheet on “Deployed Landbased Overseas Filipino Workers by Destination,” 1998-2000.

Paul K. Chapman. Trouble On Board: The Plight of International Seafarers. ILR Press, Ithaca, New York, 1992.

Sarah Collinson. Europe and International Migration. Pinter Publisher, London and New York.1993.

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