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US War on Iraq is Anti-Migrant

Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2003

Overseas Filipino workers, their families, and migrant advocates are warning against the impact of the impending US war on Iraq and joining the widespread opposition to it

By Hetty Alcuitas

"Without any belongings, we slept on the floor. There were around 400 of us in one batch. We stayed at the airport because we did not know whether a plane would arrive. We were told that by January (1991) the US would start bombing Iraq. We were scared since we had nowhere to hide. Some people died because we ran out of food. We had only two days of support from the United Nations. We were very hungry. Twelve of us shared one bottle of water just so we could wet our tongues to survive."

The foregoing is the story of Sitti Marah, a former domestic worker caught in the 1990 Gulf War, and hers is also the story of thousands of other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who faced the same ordeal more than 10 years ago.

OFWs, their families, and migrant advocates are warning against the impact of the impending US war on oil-rich Iraq and joining the widespread opposition to it.

Marah, for one, now belongs to the Gulf War Victims (GFW) whose members are mostly former domestic helpers in Kuwait awaiting compensation through the UN. While still fighting to get their due, group members are also opposing the possibility of another US-led war on Iraq, warning against the possible consequences of yet another "catastrophe" that they say will definitely befall the OFWs currently deployed in various Middle East countries.

GFW cited reports of Filipinas who were raped and even killed during the war. They also mentioned the loss of property as soldiers ransacked their employers' houses. A curfew hour was also strictly imposed with those violating it beaten and arrested. Others say they had to bathe in seawater dirtied with oil since there was no electricity or water.

Poe Gratela, chair of Migrante International, called on President Arroyo to immediately withdraw support and prevent the US War on Iraq, to protect the lives of the some 1.5 million Filipino OFWs and other innocent civilians in the region.

Gratela and Marah were part of a panel of speakers that addressed migrant concerns and issues in the recently held "Conference on WTO, Globalization and War", which was sponsored by IBON Foundation. The conference was held February 28-March 2 at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

"This government, which relies on the dollar remittances of OFWs, should take a stand to prevent the US war on Iraq", said Gratela.

Caught in the Crossfire

Xavier Bayoneta, spokesperson of the Filipino Seafarers Movement, said the US war on Iraq would put the lives of Filipino seafarers in danger and also negatively affect their families in the Philippines.

Of the estimated 500,000 Filipino seafarers, Bayoneta said only 50% or 250,000 of the total deployable seafarers are currently employed. He said that should war erupt in the Middle East would reduce the number of employed seafarers to mere 150, 000 or less.

"With a US war in Iraq, many of our seafarers will lose their jobs and their families will go hungry," Bayoneta warned.

During the workshop, Tarhata Lumpingan, who worked in Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1990-91, also gave a testimonial on her horrifying experiences being caught in the middle of a war zone.

Abandoned by her employers, she was left along with many other Filipino workers to fend for herself as the Philippine Embassy was closed. She was lucky enough to be able to escape back safely to the Philippines.

Unfortunately upon her return and until now she is still waiting, along with some 100,000 other Gulf War victims, for their compensation through the United Nations from the Philippine government.

"That is why we are calling on the government not to support the war in Iraq. Filipinos will definitely be caught again in the crossfire," Lumpingan said.

Labor as Export Commodity

In a paper presented during the workshop, Gratela explained that the Philippine government's Labor Export Policy (LEP) was developed as a "stop-gap measure to curb economic crisis but also to act as a buffer against social and political unrest".

"The LEP, coupled with neoliberal globalization and a 'terrorist campaign' against immigrants and progressive movements, is wreaking havoc in the lives of migrants and their families," he stressed.

Gratela pointed to the increased attacks on the livelihood and rights of Filipino migrants and immigrants worldwide after the September 11, 2001 incident. He said that the intensifying exploitation and oppression of migrant workers was due to the severe economic crisis in richest capitalist nations.

With the unprecedented economic crisis in the US, Gratela said, "President Bush exploited the 9/11 attacks as a means to intensify its war machinery, with anti-terrorism as its façade".

According to Gratela, the US Patriot Act, which led to the dismissal of Filipino airport security workers, raids on the homes of Filipinos in Belgium shortly after September 11 and of a Filipino crew on a ship recently in Europe, and the tagging of Professor Jose Maria Sison as a "terrorist", are all part of the intensified attacks on Filipino migrants and immigrants worldwide.

Gratela also said the WTO and continuing globalization policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization have worsened the lot of Filipino migrant workers and kept the Philippine economy backward, forcing some 6,000 Filipinos to leave the country every day in search of livelihood.

Besides the call for a stop to the US war on Iraq, conference participants also condemned the attacks on the rights and livelihood of OFWs through wage cuts and state exactions and vowed to conduct massive education and organizing campaigns among Filipino migrants.

They also scored anti-immigrant policies disguised as part of the war on terror in the host countries and, lastly, called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to immediately release the money it got from the UN as compensation for some 100,000 Filipinos displaced by the 1990 Gulf War. IBON Features

Hetty Alcuitas is coordinator at People's Media Center.

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