Monday, April 2, 2012

Formation on Migrants, Refugees and Human Trafficking

KLUANG (Herald Malaysia): A Lenten Formation on Migrants, Refugees and Human Trafficking was organised by the Melaka-Johor Diocesan Office of Human Development (MJDOHD) at the Church of St Louis on March 4.

The one-day session highlighted the Social Teachings of the Church and the plight of Migrants, Refugees and Trafficking of Persons in Malaysia and in the region. The participants were parishioners actively involved in ministries in the parish and members of POHD and SSVP.

The speakers were Sr Mercy Daniel and Sr Angeline Lau, both Good Shepherd Sisters. The formation was attended by 47 participants from parishes in Batu Pahat, Segamat, Kluang and Chaah.

Fr Deva, parish priest of St Louis Church welcomed us and congratulated MJDOHD for its proactive efforts in the dissemination of vital information to help enlighten us on our social responsibilities as parishioners as well as citizens.

Sr Mercy Daniel began Part One of the Formation with a brief History of the Catholic Social Teachings as a body of doctrine on matters of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization, and the role of the state. “Its roots can be traced to the writings of St Thomas Aquinas as well as to concepts present in the Bible,” she said. She went on to touch on the various encyclicals on social issues from the times of Pope Leo XIII and Pope John XXIII in the past, to Pope Benedict XVI today.

Sr Mercy, giving the input on the principles of Social Teachings, emphasized that we all need to take an active part in public life, and contribute to the good of the entire global human family, to be more inclusive. The focus on materialism, she said, has degraded human labour, as urbanization has brought on new problems.

Sr Angeline Lau, who heads the Migrants and Itinerant Ministry in the Melaka-Johor Diocese embarked on Part Two, on Understanding the Plight of Migrants. She reminded her audience that we are all migrants, like our ancestors before us. Jesus himself, she said, as expounded in the biblical history of sojourners, was an itinerant. She then outlined the ‘push factors’ behind migration. These included extreme poverty, lack of employment opportunities, political instability, lack of skills, and the very poor pay in the home country.

Sr Lau highlighted, with pictures, the problems faced by migrants in our country. Most migrants not only take on the 3Ds jobs (dirty, demanding and dangerous), but are also vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination by agents and their employers. They are not spared from living in deplorable conditions that are cramped, hot and unhealthy, and experience unpaid wages, physical and mental abuse.

The migration business is big business. Sr Lau paid tribute to the efforts of NGOs like Tenaganita who relentlessly pursue avenues to provide assistance to these unfortunate denizens that clamour for social justice, even to the extent of facing the wrath of the higher authorities. A five-minute video was then shown, where the audience cringed in disbelief at scenes of inhumane treatment of migrants at the workplace and the unimaginably ghastly living conditions they were forced to endure in their daily lives, here in our country, at our doorsteps, and elsewhere in the region.

After the lunch break, Sr Lau went on to Part Three on Refugees and Human Trafficking.

Refugees are not economic migrants, she insisted. Economic migrants leave their homes for economic reasons and they enjoy the protection from their home country while refugees, however, do not choose to leave their own countries. They are compelled to do so because of the threats to their safety due to armed conflict, serious public disorder and complex human rights issues. Malaysia did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and is thus not bound by its statutes.

A few short video clips were shown on the situation in Myanmar during the time of the military regime that contributed to the flight of various ethnic groups, which accounted for almost a hundred thousand refugees in Malaysia.

Going on to the subject of Human Trafficking, Sr Lau explained the definition of Human Trafficking which comprised three elements: The Act (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of a person/s); The Means (by means of the threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving/receiving of payments/ benefits to achieve the consent of a person in control of the victim; and The Purpose (exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery/similar practices, and the removal of organs). She shocked her listeners when she provided the statistics of human trafficking, including those of children for exploitation. She said that many of us are unaware of the situation, or prefer not to want to know. It is easier to dull our conscience and numb our feelings. Human Trafficking is a serious global crime that affects many countries, and Malaysia is not spared.

Participants next witnessed a dramatic video on labour trafficking in a factory in Malaysia producing sports attire of a well-known brand worldwide. Their wages were a pittance, a mere USD6 per day, but the company concerned had no qualms paying a celebrity millions to merely display the brand’s badge on his attire, for a few hours, during competitions. The living conditions of these workers were deplorable - congested, filthy and most pitiful. A video clip on child labour practices was also shown.

Sr Lau concluded her session with some scriptural passages and the Pope’s document on The Love of Christ towards Migrants for reflection and inspiration and as an impetus for our way forward in responding to these human needs in our times. She also gave us some practical suggestions on what we could do as individuals and as a community of believers.

A similar session was also given to all the clergy during the clergy recollection on March 20. -- By Paul Francis