LONDON - It is not a joke to be undocumented in Europe.
In practically all of the countries comprising the European Union, the rules and regulations regarding immigration have become tighter and tighter.
In the last European election, the right-wing National Front won in France and the UK Independence Party won in the United Kingdom, both parties seemingly very anti-migrant.
The actions taken by various governments in order to reduce migration from non-European countries have become much more serious.
One of the policies being implemented across Europe appears to be the arrest or detention of undocumented migrants. If people get arrested this way, what should they do?
Let us look at the situation in France where Mylene Macagiwa Abubo has spent the last six years working away from her family in the Philippines.
Recently she was arrested in Germany, together with 15 undocumented Pinoys on a bus on their way to do some sightseeing.
Abubo related, “I joined the trip because it was a way to see different places. We went shopping, then we got on the bus then next we were being followed by a police van. Those who had papers remained in the bus, but I happened not to have papers.”
On the second day a court hearing was held and 10 of them were released because they had babies.
Abubo continued, “Those who had children were asked to leave because they were crying, they were getting hungry. When they put handcuffs on me, that’s when I started to cry, that is how I felt at the time.”
Abubo will never forget her experience of detention. She said, “When you go to the CR, you could not go on your own. We were like dogs, there was just a hole for the food. We did not eat or sleep. We were not able to brush our teeth, and we never had a bath. In the canteen, it’s as if it was the first time they had seen a woman. They were always inspecting, to see which hole could be used to hide something.”
Their worst fear inside detention was to be raped. “One of our companions understood German. She said, the one in red. I was so scared because I did not know whether at night they would enter our cell and rape us.”
In the end, the Chief of Police dealing with their case had a change of heart when he found out her father was ill. “He asked me, if I was going home, who would you like to meet you. I cried. But how about my family? My father was ill at the time.”
Three of them were released, while two were deported to the Philippines. “In joy, in fear, it was all mixed up. On the train to Paris, I was thinking of the new life I would have for my family. Even though they were not here. I have not really done much for the family. But I did not do anything wrong.”
Now, Abubo is building her dreams again in Paris.
Another immigration story was related to us by Randy in France. Randy (not his real name) arrived in Paris in May in order to be with his girlfriend who was living in the city.
As soon as he arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport he was arrested by the authorities and he was unable to set foot in Paris. He was put in detention, and with the help of a lawyer obtained by his girlfriend he applied for political asylum and was released.
Until now however, the couple still carry the trauma brought on by the incident at the airport. Now Randy lives as one of the many undocumented Filipinos in France.
In truth, the undocumented in France are lucky. This is because it was declared by the highest court in July 2012 that being an illegal alien is not a crime, and arresting an illegal alien is a breach of European law. Since then the police lost the authority to arrest the undocumented in the streets, in their workplaces or their places of residence. They can only be arrested if they have committed a crime.
You can compare the situation in France, with the one in the United Kingdom, because the complete opposite happens in the UK.
A Filipina whose identity we will hide under the name Elizabeth related to us how she was arrested and what her life was like for six weeks in a detention center.
She said, “Well when I came out of the house, somebody stopped me and it was the police. There was a policeman at every corner so there was nothing I could do. They arrested me, took my bag, then drove me in their big van.”
Elizabeth did not know how the Immigration Officers found out about her because she had been quietly living in the UK for the past 7 years. “I think somebody reported me because I had no idea what else, so my suspicion is somebody reported me because I got arrested just outside the house. They were already outside, but nobody knew I was undocumented. There were three police cars plus their big van. Maybe the report against me was really serious.”
In the detention center, fear was all that she felt, “I was crying, you know mixed emotions. I wanted to go home, and then they brought me to the detention center in Yarlswood. When I got there it was like a huge house. When I saw it, I said how big it was. It was okay really, just like being outside, a large compound. They had everything there, you get super pampered, they were kind to us.”
But as time went by, Elizabeth started to get used to being inside and recounted with a laugh, “Then one day, that’s it, I started enjoying myself because they had everything, a gym, bingo hall, cinema. I even spent my birthday there, it was fun. It was like you were on vacation because your life outside when you had freedom was your life inside, even going to church. They even had a pub there, after dinner we would go to bingo, then after bingo we would go to the pub. Our drinks were cocktails, with alcohol. And you will see everyone was dressed to kill, wearing high heels, and complete with makeup.”
Because of left and right incidences of arrests in the UK, some domestic workers thought of setting up a support group which includes both legal migrants and the undocumented.
According to Helen Bulosan, an officer of the Filipino Domestic Workers Association, “We are here to support fellow migrants in London, and to make domestic workers aware of the rapidly changing laws. There are a lot of TNTs or undocumented OFWs here so that is where we focus, in order to help and understand why they have become TNTs here.”
Due to the ever increasing severity of the British government towards domestic workers and former students, there are now more and more undocumented workers in the UK.
This leads to immigration raids by the Border Force practically everywhere.
Bulosan explained further, “So we also organize workshops such as the Anti Raid Network. This is so that members are aware of what they should do in case they are in a very tight situation or when they get arrested. In London many of our compatriots do not realize that it might be safer not to speak, unless they have a Warrant of Arrest.”
The Anti Raid Network is a group on Facebook where members are able to alert others about any raids they hear about, and to give each other tips on what to do if they are arrested or in order to avoid being arrested.
Maria (not her real name) has been undocumented in the UK for the last eight years. She admitted, “Of course there is always fear, you cannot avoid that especially for those of us whose first thoughts are always our families in the Philippines. If by chance you get arrested, what will happen to them when you are their only hope?”
Teresa (not her real name) has been in the UK for five years, first as a student and then an undocumented. She agreed that, “It really can be frightening to go out especially with this new law that came out, because you don’t know if suddenly there is a spot check on you. That is what we are afraid of that might happen to us. I wish the law would change, to change so that those who are illegally here can get legalized again.”
Because of their workshop, members of the group found some strength in the belief that should they be faced with an immigration raid, they would know what to do.
If you get arrested as an undocumented person, you must not resist and you must not lie so that the Immigration Officers will not come down harder on you.
They might actually not detain you in the end and possibly just tell you to report every week to the authorities as an undocumented.
But if you are detained and brought to a police station or detention centre, they might still release you because of your human rights if for example you have a spouse or partner, a child below 18 years of age, or maybe you have a medical condition that needs urgent treatment, or if you have been here a long time.
If you get arrested and then released, or if you are brought to detention, you must go or make contact with an immigration lawyer or representative as quickly as possible.
There are ways for arrested or detained undocumented to be released from detention in order to stay in France or indeed in the UK. But if you have a reason to stay in France or the UK, why wait to be arrested or detained before making an application to do so?
(with reports from Marilyn Rayray and Ryan Edward Chua in Paris and London)
Immigration consultant Gene Alcantara presents a segment dubbed as Immigration 101 on TFC’s monthly series Juan EU Konek with ABS-CBN Europe Bureau chief Danny Buenafe and senior correspondent Rose Eclarinal. For the July 6 episode, Buenafe will look into the faith and religiosity of Filipinos in Europe and Eclarinal will feature some enduring and upcoming businesses of Pinoys in London.
Juan EU Konek airs every first Sunday of the month on TFC. On July 6, Sunday it airs in the Middle East (Saudi) 11:45 p.m. and Europe (Milan) 10:35 p.m. with replays on Thursday, 8:45 a.m. (Saudi) and 9:05 a.m. (Milan).