Undocumented Pinoys in Europe share struggles

Posted at 01/13/14 10:02 AM

“Documento, por favor?”

“Andrea,” an undocumented migrant worker in Barcelona, runs into five police officers who are doing their random inspection inside a train bound to Puigcerda, Catalonia.

With her heart pounding hard in her chest, she calmly explains in broken Spanish that she left her passport as well as her Spanish identification card at a house where she was staying as a guest.

She is told to get off the next stop for further questioning. There, the police officers ask for her personal details and one of them even phones her “host” (a.k.a. employer) who tells them that the 25-year-old is indeed a guest in their home.

The police give Andrea the Orden de Expulsion, a document ordering illegal migrants to leave Spain, and let her go. The native of Batangas got back to the train and once inside, she cried.

Two years ago, Andrea arrived in Barcelona right after her contract as an au pair in a Scandinavian country ended.

She was ready for an adventure, encouraged by friends who told her that it was easier for undocumented migrant workers to get legal status in Spain as compared to other European countries. But Andrea arrived at the most inopportune time. Spain was experiencing an economic crisis, one of the worst in Europe, that stricter migrant policies were imposed.

“I am now scared of travelling around Spain. I feel like being inside a box. Being illegal is difficult,” Andrea tells The Filipino Expat.

According to reports in 2012, there are about 400,000 to 700,000 illegal immigrants in Spain. Andrea is one of them.

In London, “Cherry” and “Shaylee” are facing the same challenges as Andrea. They are undocumented, constantly hiding from authorities for fear of being deported.

Cherry arrived in the United Kingdom from Qatar, where she worked for a year. Her former employers would abuse her by not giving her enough food as well as letting her work at unreasonable hours. When her employers had a trip to London, she ran away five days into the vacation.

She never looked back.

“We only had dates or tamar for breakfast,” Cherry recalls. “Sometimes we could eat rice in the morning, but only if the family had leftovers. There were times when there was nothing to eat at all, especially on Fridays when our employers would be out because it’s their day off,” shares Cherry.

Shaylee, on the other hand, fared worse than Cherry at the hands of her former employers. She was working for the said family in Dubai for two years when they decided to move to the UK.

For two years, she endured exploitation in the Middle East that continued when the family moved to London February this year. Her employers work for a diplomatic embassy in London.

She was given a salary of £200/month when her contract actually said £1,000/month with day off. Even worse, she was locked up at home especially when the whole family was out.

She was also prohibited to speak to anyone, especially fellow Filipinos.

When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she was not allowed to go home or speak to them. Her employers even volunteered to send her remittances home. Luckily, she found a free wi-fi connection and was finally able to get in touch with loved ones in the Philippines.

“I wanted to cry. I was so grateful. At last I was able to contact my family and get information online,” recalls Sherry.

One day, Shaylee was left alone at home with the baby and the door was unlocked (the keys went suddenly missing). She did not waste any time escaping.

“I packed quickly, took my passport which was held by my employers, and made sure the baby was safe. Then, I went out of the building and got on a taxi. I sent a SMS to the wife of my employer asking her to immediately return home because her baby was now alone. That was it. I was so happy. I was free. I was no longer a prisoner,” says Sherry.

But Sherry is not exactly free. Like Cherry, she is playing a dangerous game of hide- and-seek with the British immigration authorities. Both girls don’t have any right to remain in the UK because technically, they don’t have legitimate working visa.

Under UK law, their working visa was tied exclusively to the employers who brought them there.

“At first I thought life in the UK would be good. But it’s hard to find a job here because of the random checks by the police. Many of us are afraid to go out,” Cherry narrates.

There is an estimated 600,000 undocumented migrants in the UK, according to a recent study by the London School of Economics. Migrant Watch, on the other hand, estimates it to nearly a million, including cases that go unreported.

Rights for undocumented workers

Andrea, Cherry and Shaylee will continue to fear for their safety and security unless adequate laws for the protection of undocumented migrant workers will be put in place by their host countries. Otherwise, they will be continuously prone to abuses and exploitation wherever they are.

According to Coring Castillo delos Reyes, president of the United Migrant Domestic Workers in the Netherlands, most of these paperless migrants are left with very little choice but to keep mum even if they are already experiencing the worst labor conditions.

“Domestic workers here are abused because they don’t know their rights. They don’t know how to defend themselves because they are afraid of losing their jobs,” Delos Reyes says at the sidelines of a recent street protest against labor abuse and exploitation of undocumented migrant workers held in Amsterdam.

The OFW champion came to the Netherlands in 2007 and has since worked as a domestic worker. Delos Reyes, herself, an undocumented migrant worker experienced extremely low salary as well as verbal abuse from her employers.

Michele Levoy, director of Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, a non-government organization that promotes the rights of undocumented migrants in Europe, reveals that there is an estimated four million undocumented immigrants in Europe, including thousands of Filipinos.

Majority is employed in domestic work as well as in industries like agriculture and tourism that include hotels and restaurants. Many are in the sex industry as well.

Experts say that among workers in the EU, those in the flesh trade are the ones who are most vulnerable to abuse.

“Oftentimes a minimum wage is not applied. Worse, they don’t get paid at all. In some countries, there are other kinds of abuses: Physical, sexual [or] workplace accidents. Many times they would not be able to get workers’ compensation. We even have cases where the employers denied any working relationship with the undocumented migrant especially in cases of severe injury,” says Levoy.

Stricter laws on undocumented migrants

In recent years, some member states of the European Union have imposed stricter immigration laws.

In 2008, EU member countries agreed to enforce the “Return Directive,” which is aimed at managing illegal migration in the region and obliging member countries to return third-party nationals to their countries of origin or grant them legal status to avoid “legal limbo.”

This, however, only served as guidelines for some member states to toughen up their migration policies. In 2009, Italy passed a law criminalizing undocumented migrants with fines and detention. It also requires its citizens, including health care professionals, to report undocumented migrants, cutting access of UDM’s to major health care services.

In the Netherlands, lawmakers are developing certain measures aimed at criminalizing undocumented migrants while in the UK, the government is making proposals that require landlords and landladies to report those with no proper documentation.

In the UK, the government, led by the Conservative Party, had chosen to tighten the leash on everything, from budget cuts to stricter rules on immigration.

Undocumented migrants cost UK tax-payers an estimated £3.7billion on health and education services every year, according to a recent study by the Home Office. This is fueling new government proposals to curb illegal migration through the so-called Immigration Bill alongside fresh NHS reforms, in addition to the already tightened visa system.

Under new proposals, the immigration status of applicants must be checked when dealing with banks, landlords and employers, as well as when applying for a UK driver’s license. Patients could also be screened at NHS hospitals and may force ineligible migrants to pay for the services. Spot checks in public areas and transportations are also becoming more prevalent.

Migrant organizations in Europe are calling on governments, especially in Europe, to recognize that domestic work as official work and ratify the ILO Convention C190 which came into force September of this year.

The ILO Convention aims to grant paperless migrant workers the same rights as regular employers including being given the right to work and stay legally in a country.

The advantage of going through the right processes
Lawyer Chona Abiertas Tenorio, an expert on migration policies in Europe, says that as a general rule, aliens enjoy the rights and freedom according to international treaties on human rights.

However, this rule depends on the situation of the individual and the law of the host country.

For those who come to Europe from third world countries, meaning those states that don’t have an agreement with the European Union for free entry, they are required to secure legal documentation including an entry visa.

Once you are in the European territory, you must secure the extension visa or apply for residence permit depending on your situation.

Foreigners who went through the legal process to stay in Europe are entitled to move freely around the community and enjoy basic rights.

They will be treated equally as the Europeans, as well.

Here are some of the rights enjoyed by properly documented migrants:

• Free access to public health services, emergencies, family doctors, operations, medicines, etc.
• Access to aid and subsidies from the government.
• Free schooling up to secondary education and scholarship grants in college.
• Employment in different sectors that will fit your qualifications.
• Those who have university studies accredited by the host country can apply for employment in the government as well as nongovernment companies.
• You can apply for petition of descendants and ascendants.
• You enjoy all the rights and freedom that European citizens have, except the right to vote.
There are many consequences of working/living in Europe without proper documentation. These include:

• Without proper documentation you can’t open a bank account, rent an apartment, sign contracts, avail of credit cards, have telephone contracts, and so on
• The possibility of being caught, detained and deported plus constantly feeling insecure and anxious.
• Getting unstable and low paying jobs as well as greater exposure to risks of being laid off without any indemnity.
• Limited medical assistance, except during emergency situations.
• No social security affiliation.
• High risk of not getting a job, at all.

Reports by Patrick Camera Ropeta, Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna and Dheza Marie Aguilar.

This article was first published in the 5th edition of The Filipino Expat Magazine, Living in Europe. Visit their website www.thefilipinoexpat.com or like www.facebook.com/TheFilipinoExpatMagazine for more articles about Filipinos in Europe.