Immigration Policy in Europe & Human Rights-Migrant Strategies

December 19, 2009

 

Today I spoke at a Trade Union Meeting in the Netherlands, concerning the Rights of Migrants and Migrant Domestic Workers. Below you can read the text of my speech:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am asked to speak 10 minutes about Migrants.

Whenever, we as Europeans travel to the Philippines (without any visa) at the Airport we will be hearing a fantastic Filipino music band singing and welcoming us to the Philippines. What a rich welcome!Whenever I return from the Philippines to the Netherlands, however, I notice that it takes a Filipino at least 40 minutes to step out from the airplane. At the gate of the plane there are already immigration officers double-checking these Filipinos.  What a poor and week welcome! I believe this is not only valid for Filipinos, but for everyone who is from a majority world country. Why do you think these fragile migrants are living in the Netherlands? I strongly believe they are the result of an unjust and inhumane global trade, which is not a matter only for today, but a matter that started centuries ago, with colonization, slave trade, and slavery. The Western European nations, including the Netherlands, have drastically influenced the formation over past few hundred years of social, economical, and political developments in the world scenario. 

Centuries ago, not far from our current century, a group of Western European countries began to expand their territories by literally dividing the world among themselves, and beginning to colonize the nations, exploit their natural and human resources to the max, take slaves, and sell slaves in the name of God, Church, and Christianity. Shamefully, they justified their actions by their faith in God and strongly believed that they had the mandate to rule the world and take over regions and peoples for their own personal economic advantage. 

I want to remind you, that the Europeans who colonized so many parts of the world, were also immigrants. Nobody was waiting for them, nobody invited them in – yet these aggressive immigrants abused the local indigenous people, abused their resources, made them slaves, and sold them to others. This is more than criminality this is a crime against humanity! 

I am sure many will tell me: “that is the past! We have to forgive and forget!” Forgive we can, forget we cannot! It is not as simple as forgetting the past and moving on. The socio-economic and political developments of the past have created an imbalanced world, a world of injustice, a world where the 20 percent who are rich and wealthy own 80 percent of the world’s resources, a world in which every seven seconds a child dies of malnutrition, a world where the majority of its citizens are living in poverty and only a small group enjoy the luxuries which have been built upon the blood and sweat of many so-called third-world countries. Today, those who are victims of unjust global trade both in the past and today are coming to Europe.  They are here because they want to survive and it is their universal right to be here with us in the Netherlands or any other country.  It is unjust that a certain Royal Dutch oil company – whose name I don’t even need to mention–is now pumping out the oil from the soil of Nigeria and leaving their inhabitants to their own destiny and leaving a polluted soil, a destroyed ecology, a messed-up social structure, and poverty as its only legacy.

It is appropriate to be conscious in remembering that every time we are filling our cars with petrol, that this petrol comes from a developing nation, in our case from Nigeria. European policymakers and companies love Nigerian oil! However, they have no respect whatsoever for an innocent Nigerian who lives here for years without becoming a resident in the Netherlands. We love the low labor rates in the Philippines and the decently working Filipina cleaning our houses but we have less respect for them when it comes to visas, permits, and documents. Our so-called prominent multinational companies from the West, including from the Netherlands, illegally dump their old electronic gadgets in Ghana, polluting the rivers, the sea, and the land, leaving the kids behind poisoned by the chemicals coming out of this old electronic junk. 

Ladies & Gentlemen, an undocumented person is not a criminal, rather those who use Africa as a dustbin are the real criminals, not an undocumented African who cleans hotels and cleans up bed sheets in order to send money back home for her kids to survive the poverty caused by the greed of the multinationals. The greatest spammers are not Nigerians as we often accuse them off, rather those so-called bank officers and CEO’s whose inhumane gains and greed have caused this global economic crisis. I just returned from Greek Cyprus, a nation that is a member of EU. It is shameful to see how domestic workers are being treated there. They work 6 days a week, 10 hrs a day for only 280 Euros per month. Some ladies that I spoke with, they said that their contract is only for one family, but they work for 3 families for the same amount of salary. So tell me honestly, how can they survive with 280 Euro salary per month? For the past 14 years, I have been working with the migrants in the Netherlands. I came in contact with many of them who live invisible lives under very rough and heartbreaking circumstances. According to the law, these men and women are so-called “illegal,” a term which I am not so willing to use. These defenseless people are often doing domestic work such as washing, ironing, cleaning, and babysitting for the middle class and upper class society in the Netherlands. They are being used as domestic workers without any recognition or any rights, and since they have no visa or document to stay in the Netherlands, they are vulnerable to all kinds of injustices and maltreatment from the environment in which they live. 

They are invisible because the jurisdictional structures have defined them as “illegal” or “undocumented.” At the same time, they are indispensable because the citizens of the Netherlands and those that make the laws and rules need these immigrants to do the hard and rough work which they themselves have no time or are unwilling to do. 

These invisible people, the unrecognized citizens of the Netherlands, are working so hard that they have no time and energy to be the “criminals,” the law has defined them as – yet, in Amsterdam, we have often experienced unfair police campaigns arresting these innocent men and women in the streets, at the metro stations, in parks, or at parties. I have met many of these invisible men and women who have been rudely treated and psychologically threatened by police and other citizens so that now they do not even dare to come out for shopping, visiting friends, etc. They hardly dare to go to work because of the fear that if they come out of their so-called house (room) in order to go to work they will get in trouble. Some are being robbed in the streets by young men who now know that many foreigners may not have a resident permit, so they cannot have a bank account or any other services. These real-life criminals rob these men and women in the streets presuming that they have cash money with them. Or, they are often robbed at home where these immigrants live! 

Often, I have heard from these immigrants that they live so much in fear that they compare themselves with Anne Frank. Once, a woman told me: “Anne Frank is a reality today! We still have many Anne Franks in the Netherlands and in Europe,” she said. 

Strategies

 

I have the following ideas concerning strategies:

 

1.Ignorance is our number one problem. Many people live in ignorance concerning the migrants. We have to create means to elevate the level of conscience among the common men in the society

 

2.We have to lobby not only with the government and organizations, but also create conscience among well-known artists, popular artists in the Netherlands or our respective countries.

 

3.We have to use the digital world as much as we can not only through email communications, but also through creating short movies on youtube or other public arena video sites.

 

4.We have to educate the migrants about their rights. 

 

5.We have to pressure governments locally, nationally as well as Europe wide. 

 

I dream for a day that no one will be called illegal or undocumented. For we are all Children of God and for those who don’t believe in God, I say we are all children of Humanity. 

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© 2010-2019 by Samuel C. Lee

 

Samuel Lee (Ph.D.) is university lecturer, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam - Faculty of Religion and Theology (FRT-VU), and director for Center for Theology of Migration, the educational program of Samen Kerk in Nederland at the FRT-VU. 

He is the founder of Foundation Academy of Amsterdam, offering higher education in liberal arts and humanities for migrants, refugees and persecuted minorities.

 

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