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Migrants and elephants are threatened species

HONG KONG (SE): What do migrants and elephants have in common? Well, apart from sharing December 18 as a day to draw attention to their situation, both are regarded as beasts of burden and both are threatened species, as they face constant hazards.

Both International Migrants Day and Save the Elephants Day are marked on the same date, but while the population of the elephant species has dwindled to around 35,000 to 40,000, the number of people migrating in search of a better life had reached 232 million by 2013 and was still spiralling upwards.

While the elephant species is under threat numerically, as the thirst of the lucrative ivory trade for the illegal dollars on offer does not abate, even in the face of the efforts of volunteers and governments to stamp it out, the number of migrants continues to increase.

But the threats to migrant welfare continues and, as rights advocates in Hong Kong pointed out at a rally held on the Sunday prior to the appointed day, December 13, migrant workers are constantly under the shadow of financial and job insecurity, as well as being victims of discrimination on a number of fronts.

The rally held to mark the day gathered in front of the offices of both the Philippine and Indonesian consulates general in Hong Kong, as people called on their governments to make a real effort to address their needs.

Around 500 Filipinos submitted a petition to their consulate with thousands of signatures demanding the scrapping of the Overseas Employment Certificate, which they said is an unnecessary burden for overseas workers who can already prove their working status with their visas.

At the Indonesian consulate, migrants called for more protection as domestic workers, as they said that they remain vulnerable to the whims of their employers and recruitment agencies.

In front of the Central Library in Causeway Bay there was a combined call for better working conditions.

There was also a call for the sacking of the chief of the Manila International Airport Authority, Angel Honrado, for negligence in ignoring incidents of security staff planting bullets in people’s luggage in order to extort bribe money from them.

The Bureau of Customs Commissioner, Alberto Lina, was also on the hit list for introducing random inspection of balikbayan (freight) boxes, which up until now had always been exempt from scrutiny.

A spokesperson for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, Dolores Balladares, said that the year 2015 started with a victory, when Erwiana Sulistyaningsih won her case in court against her employer, who she had accused of physically abusing her, withholding her salary and denying her rest and food.

Balladares said the case showed that a system that makes it possible for a foreign domestic worker to suffer such abuse and exploitation is significantly flawed.

She pointed out that instead of initiating long-term changes to the policies that rule the lives and livelihood of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, such as the two-weeks-and-you-are-out rule and the mandatory live-in employment arrangement, the Hong Kong government has downplayed Sulistyaningsih’s experience as an isolated case and not made a genuine review of foreign domestic workers’ employment conditions or reforming policies detrimental to their rights.

She said the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families shows the importance of international human and labour rights standards, which inspired the creation of International Migrants Day.

However, as the Hong Kong government refuses to acknowledge and follow such benchmarks, it cannot say its existing policies are in line with international human rights standards.

Protestors then ventured to the Central Government Complex in Tamar, demanding the scrapping of the anti-migrant policies.

They specifically called for regulated working hours for foreign domestic workers and a minimum wage hike to $4,500, which they believe is reasonable considering the level of inflation.

In Manila, a gathering organised by the National Council of Churches, condemned what it called forced migration, saying that the very fact that at least 6,000 Filipinos leave the country every day reflects the lack of viable opportunities at home, which obliterates human dignity.

CBCP News reported that the general secretary of the council, Father Rex Reyes, pointed out that the exploitative conditions under which Filipinos overseas often work in demeaning jobs, rather than being able to use their skills and energy to develop their own country, reflects the distorted development priorities of the Philippine government.

The voices of the dedicated few who trumpet the plight of elephants and the cries of the migrant workers seeking a better life are both a challenge to what Pope Francis has termed the globalisation of indifference.

In his New Year Message for Peace, the pope says that the indifference of people towards the well-being of the natural environment can also be detected in the manner in which animals are treated and both have a lot to do with the way they treat people as well.

“Then too, there is the way we treat animals, which has an effect on the way we treat other people,” Pope Francis wrote in his New Year Message of Peace, Overcome Indifference and Win Peace.

He says this indifference towards the environment and animal life leads to a self-absorption that results in the absence of peace with God, neighbour and the environment.

The pope points out that we all have a common home and must care for every dimension of it in order to secure peace among nations.


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