Thursday, 17 September 2015 15:34

The Journey: A Migrant Among Migrants

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The family continued to live there even though my father found another job overseas. He became a migrant worker, managing huge construction projects in the Middle East for sixteen years, coming home only once a year for a month. Life growing up basically without a father was not easy. At one of our serious conversations, my brother and I made an informal pact: never to allow our future spouses to work away from us.

After attending World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostella, Spain in 1989, I lived at an ecumenical community in southern France called Taizé. There, I met and fell for a Malaysian man who became my husband. So, after our wedding in Manila, we immediately moved to Kuala Lumpur to start our married life there. Again, I became a migrant. Although it is another Asian city, I had to adapt to the different scents, sights, races and languages.

PHOTO Migration is not a crimeOne Journey

After graduating from his civil engineering degree, my father migrated to the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines to work in the mines. As a young professional, he was willing to learn new skills in the mines and the culture of the people in the area. He gradually learned to adapt to the place, met my mother (a local primary school teacher), got married and raised a family of four children there.

After working in a government department for many years, he wanted to look for greener pastures. He got a job as a Project Manager in a huge construction company in Manila. At 16 years old, I wanted to stay behind to complete my high school studies and be with my grandmother. Of course, my father wanted to bring all of us with him so we all migrated to the capital city. As migrants from the south, my brother and I used to get teased at school because we spoke a different dialect. I am not sure how my younger siblings were treated at their primary school.

The family continued to live there even though my father found another job overseas. He became a migrant worker, managing huge construction projects in the Middle East for sixteen years, coming home only once a year for a month. Life growing up basically without a father was not easy. At one of our serious conversations, my brother and I made an informal pact: never to allow our future spouses to work away from us.

After attending World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostella, Spain in 1989, I lived at an ecumenical community in southern France called Taizé. There, I met and fell for a Malaysian man who became my husband. So, after our wedding in Manila, we immediately moved to Kuala Lumpur to start our married life there. Again, I became a migrant. Although it is another Asian city, I had to adapt to the different scents, sights, races and languages.

Living as a migrant in Malaysia at that time was not easy. Spouses of Malaysian citizens were not given any rights except to stay temporarily for a year. I had to show up at the Malaysian Immigration department window with my husband every year just to be able to get a visa to stay temporarily in the country. I managed to do some work with a national church office where I was given a monthly stipend. As a Migrant Workers Coordinator, my role was to assist migrant workers in their spiritual and social needs and to provide practical help when problems with employers arise. I spent many dinners with my husband in tears as I related to him stories of the migrant workers that came to our attention.

While working at the Human Development office, I was one of those who represented the country in a Symposium of Asian Migrant Workers held in Hong Kong. There, I saw a huge number of women migrant workers either attending Masses or relaxing in the parks. I also visited Singapore and again saw a huge number of women migrant workers around the city.

After living a few years in Kuala Lumpur without proper citizenship rights, my husband and I decided to migrate and move to Sydney. My first job was training newly arrived migrants who had professional qualifications in their countries of origin. Interestingly, I had to teach them how to search for jobs in Australia when I myself was just a new migrant then.

Australia, a land of migrants, is now home for me and my family. I love living in Sydney and almost everything here. I say almost, because after living, studying and working here for twenty years and working to help migrants find jobs for many years, I still feel I have been racially discriminated as a migrant. By the way some previous staff and colleague treated me when I was a manager for over a decade; the way people suddenly speak to me slowly after looking at my eyes; and having been taken initially as a token migrant in an advisory board.

The Journey of Thousands

I became a migrant several times by choice, mostly, to look for greener pastures. As Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said, "Human mobility is an age-old phenomenon. From time immemorial, human beings have left their homes to look for greener pastures or more abundant game."

But these last few weeks have shown the world all the migrants and refugees who have had to leave their homeland. They migrate not out of free choice. Not merely to find greener pastures. But, mainly to escape from war and persecution. Most of them left to avoid death; some met it on foreign shores.

As we remember those who perished at sea, let us also accept that, as Pope Francis said, "They are men and women like us, our brothers who are seeking a better life. They were searching for happiness."

In his message for the 2015 World Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis also said, "It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and co-operation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane."

The challenge now for each and every person in our world is to take action. One very practical action is to donate to agencies caring for migrants and refugees. Another is to pray regularly for refugees and asylum seekers. When we meet a refugee, let us listen to their stories. Really listen and allow ourselves to be touched by their stories. And finally, let us share with our communities facts about their plight and encourage others to think of a new way of responding to their needs.

Photo credit: idleformat, under a CC License.