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Situation of migrant workers in Europe

Estrella del Pais
25 May 2007

This article was published first @ :: thecaravan.org

Please find below the speech of Estrella del Pais of Migrante Europe held on May 25, 2007 at the conference "In Solidarity against deportation, exclusion and exploitation" during the stop of the CARAVAN-Tour 2007 in Düsseldorf.

Good morning to all of you, brothers and sisters in the struggle for the rights and welfare of migrants and refugees, against racism and discrimination and against imperialism.

We from MIGRANTE-Europe salute you in KARAWANE for the militant actions you are taking in this KARAWANE Tour to expose and oppose the gross injustices committed against migrants and refugees by agencies of the German government. We stand together in our common fight against their exclusion, deportation and oppression.

Allow me to intoduce myself. I am Estrella and I am representing MIGRANTE - Europe. MIGRANTE-Europe is a network of progressive Filipino organizations of migrants and refugees. We stand for the rights and welfare of this sector. In the long term, we are working for a Philippine society where Filipinos do not have to be separated from their families because of forced migration and we are for a sovereign and democratic Philippines.

Today I would like to focus on the issue of undocumented migrant workers and refugees in Europe. The reasons ? first, they make up a very vulnerable sector and second, because they constitute a sizeable number with hundreds of thousands of undocumented throughout Europe. In the Netherlands, the amnesty campaign for the "out-of-procedure" 26,000 asylum seekers is still going on.

Undocumented workers are workers without rights! They are deprived of their employment rights such as pension, unemployment, sickness and maternity benefits. Moreover, they do not have social rights like the rights to housing, education for the children and health care. They are exploited and are easily exploited by their bosses because they do not have any legal rights. In cases when they are abused, they cannot stand up to their bosses to complain. If they do there is only one way to go- that is to get fired. They are thrown into a very vulnerable situation.

In the Netherlands, there are 70,000 undocumented workers. They are mostly employed in the greenhouses (greenhouse agriculture) where they grow vegetables and in flower fields. One district with a lot of greenhouses is in Westland near Den Haag. There the number of undocumented workers has grown rapidly. In recent years, there are more Bulgarians, Polish and Ukrainians. The bosses no longer want Turkish and Moroccan undocumented workers because they ask for 6-7 Euros/hour while the East Europeans are given only 3-4 Euros/hour.

Undocumented workers in Westland work 12 hours/day, 7 days a week. They pick flowers, tomatoes, paprika, cucumber. According to OKIA (Support Committee for Illegal Workers), a greenhouse owner saves 20,000 Euros per worker per year.

The exploitation of these workers has aggravated with the entry of uitzendbureaus. It used to be that workers were hired directly by the bosses. Now they are employed by the uitzendbureaus. These employment agencies earn 5 Euros/ hour/worker. As a result, the migrant workers are exploited twice. First by the boss and next by the uitzendbureau.

Mustafa Agyun in an interview said: "If I can work legally with a work permit, I don't have to be exploited by an uitzendbureau. But now I cannot fight back because I do not exist juridically. Who wants to work for 5 Euros an hour? ... I always have to follow what my boss says. We are the modern slaves of the Netherlands."

Undocumented Filipino workers also belong to this category. Filipino migrant workers in Europe has increased significantly since the 70's to an estimate of 800,000 Filipinos.Thay are spread out in big European cities like Rome, Milan, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, London , Athens. 85% are women. A large majority work as domestic helpers and at the least 50% are undocumented.

Under the Koppelings Wet which took effect in the Netherlands in 1998, all undocumented including Filipino domestic helpers lost their social rights, and their employment rights. With no medical insurance, they cannot afford to get sick while young adults cannot afford to build a family.

Their lives are far from normal. Many women migrant workers are separated from their children and their husbands for 5,10 or 20 years. They do not have a right to family reunification the way other expatriate workers do. Many end up with broken families, and children end up as juvenile delinquents back home. The social costs of migration are incalculable.

As the political climate in Europe steadily turned rightist, other governments introduced similar anti-migrant laws like those in the Netherlands. In Italy, the Bosi-Fini law crimininalized the undocumented. The police may arrrest and detain an undocumented migrant not because he committed a criminal act but because he did not have a valid visum.

Of course these anti-migrant national laws were the extensions of the Fortress Europe policies of the European Union, established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. With Fortress Europe, restrictive and repressive immigration controls were set up to guard Europe's external borders. Migrants and refugees were since then to be locked out from the European Union.

More recently in October 2006, the former Minister for Integration , Rita Verdonk introduced a policy to crackdown on the undocumented to be implemented by the Dutch police ? called, the prestatie contract ( the performance contract). The prestatie contract prescribed that the Dutch police should arrrest and detain a certain number of undocumented foreigners every year. Should the police not reach the quota, then it will not be given a bonus ( an extra salary) at the end of the year. The goal was to reach a quota of 40,000 arrests each year , 12,000 of which were to be detained. The prestatie contract was put on hold because politicians, the media and migrants protested against this razzia. By the way Rita Verdonk was the architect of immigration policies which allowed the police to arrest and detain foreigners without valid papers. Eleven of which detained, died in the fire that burned down the controversial detention center near Schiphol airport.

This criminalization of the undocmented caused a lot of unrest, fear and anger among Filipino migrant organizations. But together with other migrant groups, we fought back and with the support of some political parties and concerned groups, the policy prestatie contract is on hold.

In this connection, I would like to raise the case of Prof. Jose Maria Sison.

"On 28 October 2002, the Council of the European Union added Prof. Sison to its list of 'terrorists". This decision was taken by written procedure, without any hearing and due process, without motivation whatsoever. Unjust measures have been taken against Prof. Sison, including the violation of his civil and political rights, banning him from work, terminating his social benefits (living allowance, housing, health insurance, civil liability insurance and old age pension), the freezing of funds and other financial assets or economic resources, stigmatization as a "terrorist" and threats to his moral and physical integrity."

"The blacklisting of Prof. Sison and various anti-imperialist organizations by the European Union does not bode well for democracy in Europe. Groups and individuals who express and concretise their solidarity with them may be the next victims. The democratic rights to freedom of expression and of association are under attack. The highest sense of solidarity among all peoples is under challenge."

We demand from the European Union and its member states:

  • the removal of Prof. Jose Maria Sison' s name from the list of the Council Common Position 2002/847/CFSP and Council Decision 2002/848/EC;
  • full respect for the democratic rights of Jose Maria Sison as a recognized refugee under the relevant international conventions;
  • encouragement to the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 as the framework agreement and respect for the 1997 and 1999 resolutions of the European Parliament supporting the aforesaid peace negotiations;
  • refusal of any possible demand for his extradition or expulsion from The Netherlands.
We demand from the European Union and its member states to refrain from undertaking any action that curtails or violates the democratic rights and legitimate political activities of organisations and individuals."

We would like you to join in the Europewide campaign to stop the unjust terrorist listing and persecution of Prof. Sison. Sign the "Appeal to Remove Prof. Sison from the EU Terrorist List". Ask your friends to do the same. Your solidarity is needed.

No to deportation!
No to exclusion and exploitation!
No to Fortress Europe!
Defend the rights and welfare of migrants and refugees!

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