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Venezuelans flee violence in Ecuador

A man cries in after an angry mob stole his belongings. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

Ricardo Perez says he feels scared walking down the streets of Quito these days. He can’t wait to get back to his home in Venezuela. The 24-year-old migrant says he has long received dirty looks, been called names for being Venezuelan, and told to go home. Tensions hit a peak last week when he arrived to his apartment after work one night and saw all of his belongings thrown out into the street.

The next day, Perez went straight to the Venezuelan consulate to sign up for the country’s repatriation program and catch the next flight to Caracas.

‘I felt fear and frustration. I came here to work and help my family,’ Perez told New Internationalist outside the consulate, among dozens of other Venezuelans also hoping to return.

‘But things are easier in Venezuela,’ he said, adding ‘at least I have the warmth of my family there.’

Hundreds of Venezuelans rushed to the consulate last week to take advantage of the government’s repatriation plan, while others fled to Peru. This outflow began after a Venezuelan man killed his Ecuadorian girlfriend in the street one Saturday night. This prompted the government to create tighter border controls against Venezuelans and many locals responded with violence against the migrants.

Those heading back to Venezuela said they were concerned about the fragile political state of their country, but said they would rather be at home.

‘We don’t want Venezuelans here’

The tensions started on January 19th, when a man known as Yordy Rafael LG killed his girlfriend Diana Carolina Ramírez, who was three months pregnant, in the small northern city of Ibarra, Imbabura. Many say the tragedy was avoidable, since LG held his girlfriend hostage on the street for at least 90 minutes before he stabbed her, with police standing nearby. LG has since been detained.

President Lenin Moreno instantly responded to the event by announcing he would send more brigades into the streets and work places to control the Venezuelan population. increase restrictions for Venezuelans entering the country.

Human rights workers denounced Moreno’s response, which would only ‘increase xenophobia,’ said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a tweet. He also warned President Moreno not to ‘propagate collective hysteria.’

Increasing Xenophobia

Dozens of people took to the streets of Ibarra the night after the murder to hunt down Venezuelans in the name of ‘justice.’ Angry mobs chased the migrants down the streets, in some cases hitting anyone nearby, including women and children. Some groups also entered apartment buildings where they knew Venezuelans lived, stole their clothes, mattresses and other belongings and burnt them in the street.

Jesus Sanchez, a Venezuelan man who has been living and working in Ibarra for over a year, says he and six other friends hid in the small bedroom in their apartment when they heard the mob coming. They barricaded the door shut, as angry men pounded on the other side and ransacked their apartment. Sanchez said he could hear people breaking things and yelling, ‘We’re going to kill you!’ ‘Venezuelan bastards! We don’t want you here!’ ‘Go home!’

Video footage from that night show men throwing items off of Sanchez’ balcony onto the street, to a large cheering crowd, and police standing nearby watching the events.

‘We didn’t know what could happen,’ Sanchez told New Internationalist from his apartment, among his scattered and broken belongings.

‘There were two women with us and two kids… we put them in the closet, and told them to stay there silently and if there were any problems they should stay there. And well, we waited for the attack,’ he says, adding that they were terrified.

Daniel Garcia is sitting on the mattress he sleeps on after looters took his things. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

Thankfully, two Ecuadorian women eventually spoke up and demanded police do something to end the violence, says Sanchez.

None of the 10 Venezuelan families who live in the same apartment complex left the building the next day, out of fear.

Many Venezuelans in Ibarra have since lost their jobs, and locals refuse to buy from Venezuelan street vendors, who normally line the downtown plazas. Many of the migrants are still afraid to walk in the streets. Similar violence has been repeating in cities across the country.

At a small protest Monday night, local residents continued to demand that Venezuelans leave the country. One protester by the name of Jonatan says, ‘we don’t want Venezuelans here, because it affects our work.’ Businesses tend to hire Venezuelans over Ecuadorians because they know they can pay the migrants less, he says.

Over 250,000 Venezuelans live in Ecuador, out of the over 3 million who have fled their country’s economic crisis since 2015. Hundreds of thousands more continue to cross through Ecuador on their way to Peru or Chile. This massive migration has put pressure on local economies and has spurred growing resistance.

A Venezuelan receives donations from an Ecuadorian family. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

The Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has for months been promoting a ‘Return to the Fatherland’ program, whereby the government sponsors flights to bring back migrants abroad who want to return. Though it’s been highly criticized as a public relations stunt, hundreds of Venezuelans in Ecuador have been applying over the last week. Three flights went to Caracas Wednesday, and over 300 Venezuelans flew back Saturday.

No arrests have been made for the aggression in Ibarra last Sunday, but according to Silva Juma, the district attorney of Imbabura, investigations are underway for possible hate crimes.

Tighter Border Controls

Saturday, President Moreno implemented extra border controls for Venezuelans, now requiring that they show a criminal record check, as well as their passport or personal identification to enter the country. The move surprised the hundreds of people who continue to arrive daily at Rumichaca, the main border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador

Gabriela Hadathy, an official with the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion in Ibarra, says tighter entry requirements are dangerous. Many people don’t even have passports, let alone other official documents. If they are not allowed to enter the country legally, they’ll enter as irregulars which leaves them more vulnerable to traffickers and other human rights violations.

‘This especially affects women and adolescents who travel alone,’ says Hadathy, ‘and we’ve seen a lot of these cases.’

A Venezuelan waits in line to apostille a letter proving that he does not have a criminal background. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

Perez, who was applying to go back to Venezuela, says he knows he’s entering a precarious situation in his country, especially after thousands of citizens and several international governments unsuccessfully tried to oust President Nicolas Maduro last week. Tensions have since been rising between President Maduro and the government of the United States, who has been leading these efforts.

‘Something has to change, but we’re hopeful,’ said Perez, ‘Obviously I’m worried, but at least I’ll be at home.’


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The legal limbo of climate refugees



More and more people are displaced for environmental reasons, yet we are still to act to mitigate climate change or help those forced to move, writes Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik.

On the evening of 24 November 2012, as hundreds of workers sat behind sewing machines fulfilling orders from transnational companies, a fire broke out inside Dhaka’s Tazreen garment factory. The building was a death trap: outdoor exits were missing, iron grilles barred many windows and the adjacent road was not wide enough for firefighters to get through. Guards and managers reportedly told employees to ignore the false alarm and return to work.

The flames ripped through the building, smoke choking lungs. For workers on the upper floors, the only way out was through the windows. Guided by mobile-phone lights in the darkness, they made their way through the smoulder and jumped, some to their deaths.

That night 124 people were killed. Over 100 others sustained life-altering injuries from the jump. Many relatives weren’t able to identify their loved ones among the charred bodies; 53 bodies were laid to rest unclaimed.

Related: Out of the ashes of Rana Plaza

The majority of the victims of the Tazreen crime were young women who had come to Dhaka to earn a living in the country’s largest export industry. In research conducted after the disaster, a team led by anthropologist Mahmadul Sumon came across a startling statistic: a large number of those who died were from a small district in northern Bangladesh notable for its water stress and depleted harvests.


We are living in an age when more people than ever are being uprooted. The number of people that have been forcibly displaced is at its highest since records began: 65.3 million. People are displaced due to an interplay of factors and there is danger in oversimplifying why people leave their homes. Climate change, in particular, is hard to isolate as an exclusive cause, but there is little doubt that it is increasingly exacerbating the drivers of migration.

Around the world, climate migration is already taking place

A distinction is often drawn between the immediate- and slow-onset impacts of climate change. Immediate impacts are the dramatic weather events that dominate the imagery and news coverage of climate change: mudslides, floods, forest fires, superstorms. In 2014, the United Nations calculated that around 53,000 people were displaced daily by ‘natural disasters’, most of which are directly intensified by climate change.

A man sits covering himself with an umbrella on the roof of a house affected by Hurricane Matthew in Port-a-Piment, Haiti, on 9 October 2016. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

But less visible are the slow-onset impacts: changing rainfall, water scarcity, coastal erosion, ocean acidification, land salination, crop failure. While not as visually dramatic, these impacts have significant consequences on agriculture, income, nutrition, mental and physical health, family and community life. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has predicted that climate change will become the biggest driver of population displacement, both inside and across national borders, within the not-too-distant future.

Those most deprived and vulnerable in our societies will typically be those most at risk of environmental displacement. Migration is only one of many responses they have to economic and environmental stress and is used in different ways: for some it is a last resort, for others a method of resilience.

Around the world, climate migration is already taking place.

In China, where 95 per cent of the country’s poor live in areas particularly sensitive to climate change, millions have been displaced. Many of them subsequently move to cities, and enter the workforce, often taking up some of the most precarious positions in the labour market. In Latin America, water stress has triggered displacement in the Peruvian Andes and across Mexican farmlands, and rising sea levels have threatened communities in Panama’s San Blas archipelago. In Africa, the chronic drought wracking the Sahel has driven many households from their ancestral lands.

Perhaps the most acute expression of climate migration is seen in the Sundarbans region, which comprises parts of southeast India and southwest Bangladesh. Over the last few years, rising sea levels have shaved the coast, and saltwater has seeped further into the land. The desperation wrought by lost homes, farmlands and livelihoods has led to a surge in trafficking and urban migration, with many local citizens moving to the slums of Dhaka and Kolkata in search of employment. Some 400,000 people settle in Dhaka every year, with research showing that 70 per cent of them have fled some kind of environmental stress.

Environmental migrants often struggle to find work, and are forced to turn to precarious and frequently exploitative labour, including sex work and jobs in sectors with low pay, such as the garment industry.

This dynamic exemplifies a worrying tendency for labour rights. As a report by the Just Jobs Network outlines, ‘not only do the impacts of climate change take away people’s livelihoods, they also speed up the processes that are making work more precarious. Climate-induced migration accelerates migration to cities, saturating urban labour markets and placing downward pressure on wages and working conditions.’

When we talk about adaptation to climate change, we must also talk about safe and dignified work opportunities for those who must abandon their homes and homelands. To tackle our connected crises of climate violence and eroded labour rights, we need an immediate and just transition across the board, for workers of industries that have to be phased out, for communities who have been dependent on those industries, and for populations uprooted by environmental disaster.

Currently, those displaced through environmental changes live in a legal limbo, without rights or recognition. As Vice President of Development and Operations at Salzburg Global Seminar Benjamin Glahn wrote in a post for the International Bar Association, ‘there are no frameworks, no conventions, no protocols and no specific guidelines that can provide protection and assistance for people crossing international borders because of climate change.’

We must do all we can to change this vulnerability of environmental migrants, by taming the climate crisis, offering them legal and economic security, and ensuring we have a world that puts the protection of human beings before the protection of borders.

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A catalogue of brutality: Atlas of Migration in Europe book launch

Fence in Zaandam

Fortress Europe: Activists trying to dismantle the fence around The Netherlands 'detention boats' in the town of Zaandam. Noborder Network under a Creative Commons Licence

The Atlas of Migration in Europe: a critical geography of migration policies is probably the single most comprehensive critical analysis of the extent and impact of the EU on political asylum and immigration in the European Union over recent years.

Each year, hundreds of migrants die by drowning or exhaustion, trapped at sea in boats that are unsuitable and overloaded. Seeking to flee countries in crisis or war, these people are not able to travel legally because of the enhanced surveillance of European borders, especially in the south and east. International law is often applied in a highly restrictive manner, or denied altogether. This leaves migrants in an almost impossible situation.

The text is enhanced with maps, charts and photographs throughout. For each of the themes, the Atlas brings together more than a hundred maps, graphics, texts and photographs: all resources that help us to understand how borders shift and are ‘outsourced’, expose the control infrastructure and illustrate the security development of migration in Europe and beyond.

The Atlas launches on Monday 2 December, 6-8pm, at the Garden Court Chambers, 57-60, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ. (Tube: Holborn).

Speakers include Liz Fekete from the Institute of Race Relations, Jerome Phelps of Detention Action and a former detainee. To attend please email [email protected]

Published by New Internationalist, the Atlas is the work of Migreurop, a network of researchers and activists across Europe and Africa, supported by the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM).

Atlas of Migration in Europe cover

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The inextricable link between migration and sweatshops


The possibility of workers’ rights and climate justice movements responding to these challenges together provides reason for hope, writes Dalia Gebrial.

Sweatshops have, from their inception, been inextricably tied to histories of migration. Indeed, the birth of the sweatshop – characterised not just by low pay and poor labour conditions, but of a specific kind of factory-based, outsourced exploitation – occurred through and alongside the increased supply of immigrant labour in 19th century New York, particularly of Jewish women migrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Fast forward to the late 1990s, when US media coverage of sweatshops was at an all-time high, it became clear that whilst the sweatshop had globalised over the century, the sweatshop model itself saw little change. A 1995 raid on a makeshift garment factory in El Monte, California found more than 70 undocumented, mostly women Thai workers hunched over unsophisticated machines, severely overworked and underpaid, labouring in cramped, unsafe conditions. Whereas most industries have seen some technological advancement, the image of the garment sweatshop has seen little modification since its inception over a century ago.

So why has migrant labour remained so consistently integral to the sweatshop model? Dr Ashok Kumar, whose work specialises in global production networks and industrial relations, argues that particular industries, such as garments, footwear and certain kinds of toy and furniture require an insecure workforce. ‘Sweatshops are conducive to the status of migrants because they have always been precarious – if you are a migrant you can be exploited more easily, as you have either no workplace rights or are terrified to assert them.’

In other words, it is impossible to talk about sweatshops without talking about the social and legal positioning of its workforce. As Kumar identifies, industries such as garments and footwear that are labour intensive, have a low barrier of entry in terms of capital or technological investment and have rapid, seasonal turnaround are often occupied by undocumented women. Workers in ‘capital-intensive manufacturing’ such as aeronautics and automobile industries, ‘have greater bargaining power because of the levels of investment in fixed capital and technology,’ and tend to be documented and male. We also see a more male and second-generation migrant workforce in the labour-intensive electronics industry, which exhibits sweatshop conditions but has more capital investment than garment industries and therefore sees – albeit it very slightly – more collective bargaining power. Here, social hierarchies are trafficked into and compounded by the workplace, and show themselves to be ardently tied to the kinds of labour carried out.

In her seminal book on gender, labour and power in the global apparel industry, Jane Collins makes a fine case for how this connection between social hierarchies, in which gender and migration status is central, and sweatshop labour is a transnational phenomenon; it ‘linked the fate of workers in industrialised and developing countries’. Referencing the US anti-sweatshop movement of the 1990s, she argues: ‘contradicting the industrialised world’s belief that its economies were different, a proliferation of sweatshops in developing nations appeared to coincide with the increased number and declining conditions of such factories in the United States and Europe as well.’

So what does this tell us about the global workers’ movement? Firstly, it admonishes myths that divide the interest of migrant and non-migrant workers; that it is the mere existence of the former that undercuts the living of the latter. It becomes clear that the structure of certain industries requires a section of the workforce to be situated at the bottom and most precarious level of the social hierarchy, as they have less access to collective bargaining and solidarity – a position that can be instrumentalised in the workplace.

In other words, undocumented migrants are less valued in society, and can therefore be paid less and exploited more, slotting them neatly in to the most precarious industries. ‘It’s what economists call a monopsony,’ says Kumar. ‘In the garment industry, the low barrier of entry – how cheap it is to set up a garment sweatshop – means you see many sellers and few buyers, and suppliers remain competitive by using and disciplining the cheapest, most marginalised workers; those that do so are rewarded with the largest contracts, and those that don’t are left to fail.’ Here, the fault clearly does not lie with migrant workers seeking a living, but with a structurally embedded and profit-driven need to create a worker base with different degrees of exploitability. Full recognition and defence of migrant worker rights, through the support of collective bargaining, is the only way to sustainably address workers’ rights violations across the board.

Secondly, it invites us to consider another dimension to the escalating refugee crisis. A recent panorama investigation revealed that sweatshop garment factories in Turkey had been using Syrian child refugees and paying them little more than on US dollar an hour, a rate significantly below the minimum wage for documented Turkish workers. Many of these factories were in the supply chain for major global retail brands including ASOS, Mango and Zara.

As Daniel Voskoboynik wrote in his recent New Internationalist article on ‘The legal limbo of climate refugees,’ we are living in an age ‘when more people than ever are being uprooted’ – with 65.3 million, the highest number since records began, people having been forcibly displaced in 2015. Climate change is rapidly augmenting this, and will increasingly become a key driver of migration both across and within national borders. Indeed, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has predicted that climate change will soon become the biggest global driver of forced migration. The reasons for this are diverse; in some cases, it may be due to livelihoods being destroyed by environmental chaos, in other cases moving and diversifying income becomes a coping strategy for increasing insecurity. Whatever the reason may be, up to one billion people will become environmental migrants by 2050. This phenomenon – which will only become more endemic – must be responded to by workers’ rights organizations.

As a recent 2015 report from Just Jobs Network made clear, as climate change increases rural-to-city migration, urban labour markets will become saturated and climate migrants, like other migrant workers, will be more likely to end up in unstable and unsafe work; such conditions of mass displacement drive the ‘rise of precarious work arrangements and informality, and generates opportunities for exploitation.’ As is typically the case, the poor, and particularly poor women, will largely bear the brunt of this. However, on a macro level, a saturated labour market will place downward pressure on wages and working conditions; all workers ultimately have a stake in full protection of migrant worker rights.

This is why the growth of worker-led bargaining is necessary and reason for optimism. ‘We’re seeing changes in the global value chain’ says Kumar, ‘and this is due to a combination of structure and worker agency – more advanced sections, such as commodity production, denim and shoes, are beginning to be consolidated, extending surplus value at the point of production and reinforcing the relationship between brands and retailers, and potentially increasing the bargaining power of workers.’

It’s beyond time the workers’ rights and climate justice movements work together to respond to these new challenges. The evidence is clear that each have a stake in mitigating climate crisis, and fighting for the rights of those who will be most affected by it.

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Living (and lying for) the American Dream

Jose Antonio Vargas was 12 years old when his mother packed him off to the United States.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist wrote in a gripping confession for The New York Times about the day his mother woke him up and put him in a cab to the airport. She handed him a jacket to protect him from the cold weather, and sent him out of the Phillippines to get the chance of a better life.

It was the start of his journey as an undocumented immigrant, marked by anxiety and backed by an intricate web of lies.

Vargas outed himself as 'illegal' last week. There is no news yet as to how US authorities will treat his case. The possibilities are countless – he may be put in jail, deported or given a rare amnesty by the Obama administration.

Reading his story reminded me how bad the situation has become.

Back here at home, at the Philippines’ main airport, throngs of Filipinos continue to send off their loved ones to different corners of the world every day. Some use fake passports while others bribe immigration officials to get past the control gates. Most still do it legally, but the number of people who resort to illegal means to work overseas still runs into the millions.

Some stories are worse than Vargas'. But their lives are as difficult and painful. I remember one incident back in my high school years, many moons ago. A classmate’s sister had died in a car accident.

Her morbid death was made more tragic by the fact that her mother could not make it to the funeral because she was toiling on American shores as an illegal immigrant. There was no way she could come home because she did not have the right papers. So she couldn't pay her last respects to her eldest child, or send her daughter to her final resting place.

Another story is that of a close friend who went to the United States in search of a better life for himself and his daughter. A famous actor over here, he opted instead to live an illegal immigrant’s life, going from one job to another. He worked as a carer, a truck driver and a domestic help.

At night, he would drink gin to drown out the pain of his reduced circumstances.

This is the reality of Filipinos seeking better opportunities to feed their families. At home, they’re called heroes by the same government whose inefficiency has forced them to leave their loved ones in the first place.

They are heroes indeed for a government whose actions are far from heroic.

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Pursuing a world without migration has tragic consequences


'Please tell us what does being a sub-Saharan mean? To not have a place in the world?' Fibonacci Blue under a Creative Commons Licence

A group of sub-Saharan migrants write an open letter to organizations and citizens around the world to protest their treatment by Moroccan authorities.

'We write as sub-Saharan immigrants currently residing in Morocco. We want to communicate our inhumane living conditions and the difficulties we have living on the border between Casiago, Morocco and Ceuta, near Spain. If today we have decided to be heard it is because for the last 6 months our tears have fallen without stopping.

In Morocco, repression from the authorities means we live continually with violence that can lead to death. It is important for us to denounce these acts to the whole world. Every day in the woods where we live, the Moroccan army comes and persecutes us with stones and batons, destroying our means of survival – tents, blankets, mattresses etc – forgetting the racist and demeaning expressions they use. The violence frequently ends with people being injured who cannot be treated in the woods and are unable to go to hospital.

On 6 February, a group of us gathered on the Moroccan side to enter Ceuta by swimming around the fence which juts out into the sea separating Morocco from Spain. When we arrived we were attacked by the Moroccan army.

Once we entered the water (a neutral zone) that separates Casiago and Ceuta, the Spanish police – better known as the Guardia Civil – started to attack us with a variety of different weapons such as rubber bullets and teargas. Officers on the rescue boats that were supposed to help us, beat us. Of the 200 people that attempted to cross the water, at least 50 of our brothers disappeared or lost their lives in front of our eyes, among them a boy of 18.

We started recording the whole scene with our mobile phones for evidence but we were caught by the Moroccan authorities, so the media have not had the footage to be able to see the reality of this story.

After all this, people across the world, please tell us what does being a sub-Saharan mean? To not have rights? To not have a place in the world?

On 13 February a day of mourning was held by the survivors of this tragedy in memory of our dear friends who disappeared that day. We turn to you so that there is justice on this earth. With eyes full of tears, please help us in any way possible. There does not exist a world without migration. A better life is possible.'

Signed by:
Keita Thierry, Cameroon
Vken Ndjoumek, Cameroon
Bekoutou Fanjou, Cameroon
Goninggay prince, Central Africa
Ngan sop Sebastien, Cameroon

Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain that is situated off the African coast. It is separated from Morocco by a series of large fences. Just outside the border on the Moroccan side over 2,000 people are estimated to be living in makeshift camps in the woods, waiting for opportunities to enter into Ceuta. Since the start of 2014 there have been a series of attempts at entry, at least one of which led to numerous deaths. The situation of migrants living in the camps is extremely precarious and, as the letter explains, they face constant repression and violence.

Read 'Stuck in the middle' about migrants that try to reach Ceuta from sub-Saharan Africa.

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Overseas Filipino Workers – heroes at home, exploited abroad

Filipino workers in Hong Kong call home
Calling home: filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong KC Wong under a CC Licence
I woke up to a rising sun in Doha, Qatar, one warm Sunday in March and was led to the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel where I was billeted, when I saw them. They opened the doors of the black car that took me from the airport to the hotel’s main entrance.

Kabayan,’ they greeted me, the Filipino word for fellow countrymen and women. It brought me comfort to find a fellow Filipino in a Middle Eastern country I was visiting for the first time. Later in the day, when I went to the city to exchange some dollars for local currency, I saw more Filipinos, my beloved Kabayans.

They were everywhere, sweating in the scorching desert heat, toiling a living for their loved ones at home. I saw them behind the wheels of the hotel’s shiny black Audis, behind bank counters, inside exhibition halls of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, inside the hotel’s luxurious spa and in the hotel’s lobby lounge.

Two hours from Doha, in the industrial city of Ras Laffan, I boarded a hulking black LNG tanker and saw them staffing the kitchen, cooking for the rest of the ship’s crew.

Overseas Filipino Workers, they all are. Our government calls them unsung heroes and rightly so, because the dollar remittances they send home keep the economy afloat.  According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), recent data shows that remittances from overseas Filipino workers rose by six per cent to $1.68 billion in February from $1.59 billion in the same period last year.

The BSP expects 2013’s total remittances to grow by five per cent from 2012’s figure of $21.4 billion.

According to government statistics, there are 2.2 million overseas workers scattered all over the world, from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to Hong Kong and the US.

For many of these overseas Filipinos, however, working abroad is no paradise because they are separated from their children. Indeed, the social cost is high; children have to grow up without one or both parents.

Groups that promote the welfare of migrant workers have been calling on the government to provide gainful opportunities in the country so that Filipinos do not have to seek jobs abroad.

Migrante International secretary-general Gina Esguerra says the government must change its labour policies so that people can find job opportunities at home and wouldn’t be forced to leave for abroad.

What is happening, she says, is that the government is too focused on promoting labour export policies – or policies that encourage Filipinos to work abroad – instead of providing better job opportunities in the country.

And yet, the unemployment statistics in the country are stark and telling. According to the National Statistics Office (NSO), the unemployment rate was nearly unchanged in January at 7.1 per cent compared to 7.2 per cent in the same month last year.

Furthermore, the NSO noted that the number of unemployed Filipinos rose slightly to 2.894 million in January from 2.892 million a year ago.

The numbers tell a sad story, as sad as the stories of overseas Filipinos who long to be with their loved ones instead of toiling in distant lands.

But this is the story of my many kabayans, millions of them, scattered around the world. They long to come home but for many of them, such a dream remains elusive.

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Europe: united against refugees


Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border in a photo from August 2015. Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed under a Creative Commons Licence

Europe’s civil society has been outspoken in condemning Hungary for its stance on refugees.

On 2 October, Hungary held a referendum in which 98 per cent of voters (40 per cent turnout) voted against the ‘enforced relocation of non-Hungarians in Hungary’, a xenophobic campaign launched by Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn.

Many observers see the referendum as the symbol of a profound divide in European politics, between ‘old Europe’ and the so-called ‘Visegrad Group’: Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

According to them, the reluctance of Visegrad countries to receive refugees is out of step with EU ‘values’.

Yet the leaders of these states are inspired by the dominant principle of border control: the denial of all freedom of movement for asylum seekers and the aim of keeping exiles at an ever-greater distance from the Schengen area, preferably in detention.

Countries of the Visegrád Group. Map by CrazyPhunk

Visegrad countries were not alone in protesting when, for a few weeks at the end of 2015, Germany and Austria opened their borders to exiles taking the ‘Balkan routes’.

The welcoming policy broke with all European rules regarding asylum and resulted in real panic in the heart of the EU and in various member states.

Last February, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls publicly scolded the German chancellor during a visit to Munich, saying, ‘We can take no more refugees … The time has come to put into effect what has been discussed and negotiated: “hotspots”, controls at exterior frontiers, etc.’ He reminded us how, for more than 20 years, the EU has trampled over the founding principles of the right to asylum.

The EU subordinates the right to asylum to frontier control, barring exiles from access to asylum procedures that respect the Geneva Convention and international agreements.

European rules – notably the Dublin regulation – result in concentrating exiles in ‘countries of arrival’ urther challenging their freedom of movement. After German frontiers had been closed once again and the chancellor had returned to the positions long shared by her European partners, anathema could be pronounced against the Italians and Greeks for being incapable of ensuring the ‘security’ of the EU and of facing up to the ‘migrant influx’.

A hotspots policy promoted by the European Commission since the spring of 2015 and progressively implemented from February 2016 was presented as the solution to the ‘migrant crisis’: despatching European officials and opening camps for the identification and triage of exiles on Greek islands and in Italy to increase the expulsions of asylum seekers crossing the sea to reach EU frontiers. The recognition of Turkey as a ‘safe country’, and the agreement concluded with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in March 2016, were in pursuit of these aims. For months, the European Commission had argued in favour of an increase in the number of ‘returns’ and for more co-operation agreements with countries of ‘transit’ or ‘departure’.
Migrants who were rescued from a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea are pictured in Al-Beheira, Egypt. Photo via REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Even the very policy of ‘relocation’ – provisional rules about the distribution of asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy between EU member states – has been overruled by the logic of hotspots.

On 26 September 2016, only 5,600 people – less than 10 per cent of the number originally envisaged – had been ‘relocated’. The same day, more than 60,000 exiles were crammed into Greek camps in conditions universally criticised as inhumane. The number of ‘relocations’ is likely to decline in coming weeks. Soon after its start, the initiative has already run out of steam.

In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was worried that the Aegean islands had become ‘vast zones of forced confinement’. After having turned the Mediterranean Sea into a vast cemetery where over 4,000 people have died since the start of 2016, European policy is transforming Greece into an archipelago of detention camps.

The situation shocks human rights defenders. But it also worries many heads of state who would rather be overseeing the creation of enclosed areas outside EU borders. Revisiting UK prime minister Tony Blair’s 2003 proposal, Viktor Orbàn stated on 24 September that ‘big refugee camps should be set up outside the EU, financed and guarded by it’, to which migrants should be transported and where they should be ‘obliged to stay while their asylum applications are considered.’ His words must be taken seriously. Hungary may have been the first country in the Schengen area to literally wall off some of its frontiers, but its example has since been copied, notably by the French and British.

‘Putting up fences for people where we would not do the same for animals, that is not respecting European values,’ said Laurent Fabius, then French foreign minister, when Hungary set out to construct the ‘anti-migrant wall’ along its frontier with Serbia.

But the promotion of a world of camps and walls is not just the project of the Hungarian leader. It is also the dominant feature of migration policy pursued by many nations, including the EU and its member states for 20 years.

A similar version of this article appeared on Open Democracy on 11 October 2016.

Emmanuel Blanchard is the chairman of Migreurop, a Euro-African network against policies which isolate migrants, deportation, border closures and externalization of migratory controls.

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The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration

Author of our No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration, Peter Stalker discusses the complexities of international migration in the wake of the Arab Spring. Chapter 1 and the foreword are available on our website and you can also view all of the weekly No-Nonsense guide blogs.

No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration coverThe No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration
by Peter Stalker

An embrace from Silvio Berlusconi is generally best avoided, at any age. But one of the more dubious welcomes he extended earlier this year was to 20,000 or so migrants from Tunisia in an exodus following the Arab spring. In this case his friendship came with an imminent expiry date. The Italian government issued the visitors with residence permits, but only temporary ones, and firmly pointed Tunisian and other travellers in the general direction of the Alps. After all, these permits, although festooned with Italian stamps, should also entitle the migrants to move freely within the ‘Schengen Zone’, a group of 25 European countries between which there are no passport controls. Unfortunately for Silvio, and the migrants, France saw through this ruse, promptly rounded them up at the border and despatched them back to Italy.

These manoeuvres have now thrown the future of EU migration policy into question. In proposals to be discussed by the EU’s home affairs ministers on May 12, the Schengen Zone rules would be altered so that in ‘exceptional circumstances’, a member of the zone judged not to be controlling its own borders with sufficient diligence or ferocity would see passport controls reintroduced. Just how exceptional even these circumstances are is open to question.

While Italy may complain about people coming from Tunisia these numbers are minor compared with arrivals in Tunisia itself. As Bjarte Vandvie of the NGO network, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, has pointed out, Tunisia has welcomed some 300,000 people fleeing the fighting in Libya: ‘It is Tunisia that needs help handling its refugees, not Italy.’ It should be noted of course that the UK is not even a member of the Schengen group so there was little chance of any Tunisians making it across the channel.

Doubtless, many of these migrants would be classified as economic refugees. Unemployment in Tunisia is officially around 13 per cent, but probably much higher. Indeed, the original trigger for the Arab unrest was the cry of pain from a desperate young Tunisian man, not even allowed to sell vegetables by the roadside. At that point, he would have been unable to migrate to Italy, thanks to a series of agreements through which the Italy effectively bribed the repressive governments of Tunisia and Libya to ensure that their citizens, however unhappy, stayed firmly put. With the regimes disintegrating, these dubious pacts have also been unravelling and restless people have at last able to leave if they are desperate enough to take to the fishing boats.

As I pointed out in The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration, the people most likely to migrate are not generally the poorest, but rather those whose lives have already been disrupted and who can also scrape enough cash together to pay for a voyage. Globalization and rapid economic development tend to shake people loose from their surroundings. But suddenly unlocking the political shackles can have much the same effect. As UN staff in Tunisia have noted: ‘Some villages appear largely empty of their young male population, with only women, children and elderly people remaining.’

It would be a shame if the EU commission were to start weakening the Schengen Agreement, which is arguably one of the EU’s greatest achievements. But many governments across Europe are coming under pressure from the anti-immigrant far right, whether the Northern League in Italy, or the National Front in France. The latest in this depressing trend are the True Finns who seem likely to form part of Finland’s next coalition government.

If immigration policy is contentious in Europe, it has also become increasingly polarized in the US, with aggressive state legislation, notably in Arizona, which  among other things would have made it a crime for immigrants not to carry immigration papers and allow the police to demand to inspect these. Mercifully a Federal judge stepped in just before the law was to come into effect. Judge Noonan said: ‘That 50 individual states or one individual state should have a foreign policy is absurdity too gross to be entertained.’ Unfortunately, this has not stopped other states, including Utah and Florida, from taking a similar stance.

High time that the Obama administration, mindful of its Hispanic support base, demonstrated a bit more leadership. Oddly in this case, he might do worse than follow George W. Bush. The previous president is not usually a source of inspiration but from 2004 did try to rationalize US immigration policy, even proposing to offer unauthorized migrants a path to legality. However, faced with opposition from the Republican far right he eventually threw in the towel. President Obama’s approach has been less than audacious. In fact, his administration has been deporting more people than Bush’s. However, as reported by Americasvoice.org he has been  ‘Meeting with a number of Hispanic leaders, so a more cohesive policy may eventually been forthcoming.’

Migration policy is a bit more pro-active in some of the immigrant source countries. I am  writing this from the Philippines which officially has around 2 million workers overseas and regards them as ‘modern day heroes’. The country does make efforts to protect workers through the Philippines Overseas Employment administration.

For example, it asked Saudi employers of domestic workers to submit their police clearance, and guarantee a salary of at least $400 per month. The Saudi government response? It stopped all hiring of Filipino domestics. But even the Philippines is ‘coming under fire from its national federation of migrant groups, Migrante International, for its “slow, dismaying and disorganized action’ in repatriating  workers  trapped in Libya.

The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration argues for the kind of activist support for migrants that the Philippines Overseas Employment administration at least tries to engage in. But ultimately it is the destination countries who wield most of the power – which they generally do in an erratic and often exploitative fashion. Silvio may be one of the more egregious violators of immigrant rights. But he is far from alone.

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‘Little Africa’ in China

The Chinese have a saying: ‘If you want good food go to Guangzhou.’ Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

‘China represents not only the land of our dreams, but an opportunity for all Africa,’ says Jojo, a 33-year-old Ghanaian who left his family and friends in search of fortune.

He recalls that, at the beginning, it was not easy. ‘There is no real employment in the country. You have to be creative and employ yourself.’ After almost four years, Jojo has managed to become a trade representative, mediating business deals between Chinese and Africans, a fashion designer, designing and manufacturing clothes that he sells in both countries, and the owner of an ultra-modern African restaurant in the heart of Guangzhou, together with his Chinese wife.

Nicknamed ‘Little Africa’, the prosperous southern city of Guangzhou is home to Asia’s largest African migrant population, who come to China chasing business opportunities, reputable universities and low living costs.  

Although there are no precise figures, more than 15,000 Africans, particularly from Egypt, Mali, the DRC and Nigeria, are estimated to live in the bustling city, which forms part of the Pearl Delta Region – the largest urban area in the world in terms of size and population. More than half a million travel here each year to buy every imaginable ‘Made in China’ product, from air conditioners to fake Nike sneakers, and send them back to Africa.

Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

Dealmakers and dreamers started arriving in China as the country liberalized the economy in the mid-90s, but the number grew in the 2000s as Beijing deepened its economic relations with Africa. China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner nine years ago, and in September 2018 President Xi Jinping pledged a further $60 billion in loans and investments. 

Masoud, a 32-year-old medicine student from Niger, who was between one of the 50,000 African students to receive a Chinese government scholarship in 2015 to study abroad, sees China as ‘the new land of opportunities, where anything is possible.’ In less than 15 years the African student body has grown 26-fold thanks to scholarships and each year more students arrive in China from Africa than from any other region, making it the second most popular destination for Africans studying abroad after France, according to UNESCO. Most of those heading to Chinese universities hail from Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Morocco, Eritrea and Cameroon.

Xiaobei Lu, the heart of Guangzhou’s Little Africa, is filled with halal food shops, bilingual signs and women carrying bags on their heads. Africans and Chinese make deals and interact in the polychromatic markets and malls, as the social life in Little Africa revolves mainly around business. 

There is of course time in the evening to enjoy the nightlife in the restaurants. The Chinese have a saying: ‘if you want good food go to Guangzhou’. This is also where most Afro-Chinese romances blossom, and each Sunday an on-growing number of mixed families fill churches and mosques, as a new generation of Afro-Chinese children plays in the courtyards. 

Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

In the midst of a vibrant conglomerate of economies, languages and ethnicities, the lives of Chinese and Africans are closely knit depending on each other in their daily activities. 

But it is far from plain sailing for those who have chosen to set up home here. Poor social-security benefits, almost hardly any adequate medical benefits and stricter migration rules mean that the vast majority of African migrants in the city live under uncertain conditions, ‘often at the mercy of brutal Guangzhou security personnel’, according to author Adams Bodomo. ‘Without a legal path to residency, Africans live mainly at the fringes of society and have to fend completely for themselves and their families.’

Chinese embassies in Africa have made it progressively more difficult to attain visas to enter the country, and opportunities to obtain residence permits or long-term visas have been recently curtailed. At the same time, the control of foreign residents in the city has been tightened.

And as the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau denies African husbands full citizenship rights, families live in the constant fear of being torn apart.

‘Even if they are married and have children, most of the African people never know how long they will be allowed to stay,’ says the researcher Heidi Østbø Haugen. ‘Foreigners cannot buy properties, don’t have any financial security and no legal rights to their kids. They will never be integrated, if they don’t know what the future will bring.’ 

'Every day before I leave my house I gather all the documents that prove that I am legally resident in China,’ explains Yugo, pictured here with his family. Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

While the on-growing new generation of mixed-race children born in China have full citizenship, allowing them to attend public schools and be fully integrated, their parents continue to face persistent prejudice and hostility. 

‘In China, people are not used to foreigners,’ says Jin Qigang, a 23-year-old waitress from Guangzhou. ‘Most Chinese have never seen foreigners in their lives, so they are very afraid of them, even to touch them or talk. But the situation is changing and we’re getting used to it.’

‘Every day before I leave my house to go to the market, I spend about 10 minutes gathering all the documents that prove that I am legally resident in China,’ explains Yugo (pictured above), from Nigeria, who married a Chinese woman 15 years ago and had 2 children. ‘With the way the current visa system is structured, they let you know that this will never be your home.’

But despite these tough conditions, Yugo is not ready to give up on the Chinese dream. ‘While Europe is rejecting migrants, China is doing a lot for helping us.’


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