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Opinion

Hurdles to overcome to assist our migrants

PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero-Ballescas - The Freeman

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of our Filipinos went abroad. It may be no exaggeration to say that there are Filipinos in every country throughout the world.

The reasons have always be primarily family-related. Many Filipinos crossed borders mostly to find better-paying jobs so that their families will be able to sufficiently meet present and future needs.

Although the pandemic caused the whole world to stop, curtailed mobility, and, confined people to homes, their localities, and countries, there were and there are still many of our people ready to travel abroad to work, nurses included. The large number of aspiring migrants among the LSIs (locally stranded individuals) at the Manila International Airport can attest to that.

The Philippines has, historically, been a migrant-sending country. Officially, labor export became a policy during the Marcos era, in the ‘70s. The long decades of Filipino migration presented valuable lessons for all, especially for governments, to ensure the welfare and protection of our migrants.

Is the Philippine government here and abroad responsive to the needs of our migrants for welfare and protection?

For one, does government have safety nets and procedures for migrant welfare and protection during periods of pandemic and disasters? Ideally, yes. In reality, no. Just look at how the migrants among the LSIs were unattended!

Many land and sea-based OFWs and other migrants lost their jobs. Were there contingencies to take care of them in the host countries? Were there procedures to bring all of them back to the Philippines at government expense? Were there ready packages, safety nets, for their return and reintegration? Sadly, the answer to all the previous questions is more often, none of the above.

During this pandemic, millions of our Filipinos remain abroad. Millions are still working hard to be able to send money back home to support their families especially during this challenging period. Many have experienced and continue to encounter hardships while in foreign countries. Are our distressed Filipinos abroad promptly and aptly assisted by the Philippine Embassy or Consulate where they are?

What are some of these adversities they face abroad? These can be work-related (contract violation, abusive work terms/conditions) or may involve family matters (marriage, divorce/separation, birth certification, others). There are the victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, accidents, calamities. What about the needs of those in prison or those brought to court?

How responsive is the Philippine government through the Philippine embassies, consulates, diplomatic missions abroad to these needs of our Filipinos abroad?

Our Filipinos in many different countries throughout the world will most likely give a failing mark for the service and response of the Philippine diplomatic missions abroad. Why?

The answers are legion. Note these examples:

No one answers the phones listed in the embassy directory. Very vague, no information or confusing, varied information is relayed during answered phone calls for assistance. Many Philippine embassies and consulates are unreachable beyond office hours, weekends, and holidays.

No emergency hotlines. No clear guidelines and procedures for various types of services needed.

Palakasan, connection can speed up procedures and transactions. Woe to those without connections, expect to be asked to return and return and return, concerns not responded to, time and effort wasted.

Many will witness to insulting, degrading attitude of many in the consular and labor services abroad and back home.

Sadly, whether our distressed migrants are here or abroad, many will attest to the shabby treatment and neglect they experience from embassies, consulates, and migrant-related offices/agencies. In fairness, there are exceptional genuine professionals who render efficient response and service to our distressed migrants.

Clear policy and guidelines, culled from decades of migration experience, can help ensure migrant welfare and protection.

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