Tuesday, November 9, 2010

[Eljoma Thinks: Why Not?]
BILOG - Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group

Information Sharing, Support and Selp-Help Sessions, Networking Activities -- Toward Societal Reintegration

A hidden population is a group of persons who are unwilling to be identified because of their fear of censure or social stigma.  Some examples of these kinds of groups are drug addicts, sex workers, victims of rape or child abuse, former priests and nuns, the homeless, street children.  Yet, it is precisely because these populations are hidden that they are the most vulnerable to continuing stigmatization (due to lack of information and thus understanding on them) and societal marginalization (as they are beyond the reach of effective government policies and programs.).

Irregular migrants are another example of a hidden population.

Current ones, understandably, avoid identification for fear of arrest and deportation.  Past ones, depending on how well they prepared for their inevitable deportation, face three fates.  One, those who saved up can leapfrog into economically productive activities.  Two, those who were unable to accumulate enough capital return to their previous economic status and restart their lives from where they left off prior to their departure. And three, those who were unlucky and through various personal indiscretions and squandered opportunities returned broke and alienated from their families, simply disappear into the periphery of society.

Governments usually consult a target population when a policy that is intended to apply to them is to be formulated and eventually implemented.  But how does a government of a destination or immigration country consult a population that is deemed to be in violation of its laws?  Or, more importantly, why does it need to consult violators when its mandate is simply to enforce and implement the law?  For a government of a source or emigration country, how does it assist this vulnerable population when it is unable to, first, identify them, and, two, understand through empirically gathered information their situation and thus their most critical needs?

For governments of destination countries there are at least two reasons why policies on migration management - particularly concerning irregular migration - would become more effective if a cycle of feedback and review can be initiated based on empirically gathered information.

One, policy effectiveness cannot be equated solely with deportation numbers, though that is one stage in the migration management continuum.  Equally important are key issues such as, among others, how long deported irregular migrants stay in their home countries before attempting to go abroad again to other destination countries, or possibly to the same country that deported them.

Two, the attractiveness of voluntary surrender offers need to be verified from the target population themselves, in additional to consulting secondary resource persons or organizations.  The Departure Order System of Japan, for example, instituted over 6 years ago (in October of 2004), has yet to achieve its desired effect.  Is the Departure Order System designed more to attract neophyte overstayers (say below 3 or 5 years) or long-standing ones (higher than 5 years)?  Current irregular migrants that I have discussed the Departure Order System with cite various reasons why they find it a better proposition to just stay on as overstayers.  To be sure, computations and assessments of the cost versus the benefit of voluntarily surrendering vary according to the length of stay as an overstayer.  It is these kinds of individual opinions that come directly from the affected populations that need to be verified and validated empirically through a wider base of respondents.

For governments of source or emigration countries, what programs can be instituted in order to re-tool and re-orient the returned irregular migrant so that he may be eventually led back to become a productive member of society?  One deported irregular migrant respondent of mine with ten years experience baking for a high-end bakery in Japan remains unemployed since July 2010 because his baking skills cannot be used by the baking industry of a rural town where his is now stuck in.  How can counselling be offered to those who have come back to alienated families?  The goal of this counselling would not be to rebuild relationships -- as they are often broken beyond repair.  Rather, counselling would be targeted at redirecting the migrant's remaining energies to rebuilding his future from that point onwards, with (ideally) or without (unavoidably) his original loved ones.

For returning irregular migrants, the ultimate goal is reintegration.  Unlike returning regular migrants whose plans are controlled fully by their active decision-making, returning irregular migrants -- especially those who were deported (as opposed to those who voluntarily surrendered) -- are suddenly thrust into a time frame and situation that is largely unplanned.  Uncertainty and unpredictability are the most challenging to overcome.  One immediate need is to link returning irregular migrants to a support and self-help group to counter loneliness and the shock of abrupt return into the local community.  Networking with other deported irregular migrants may also be a valuable source of benchmarking of tactics and strategies at survival methods after returning to the Philippines.

Forming BILOG - The Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group
Past and current Filipino irregular migrants in Japan will want to join the BILOG group for three reasons:

1.  Support and Self-Help
Members of BILOG can link with other past or current irregular migrants and share experiences and coping mechanisms.

2. Networking Opportunities
Members of BILOG can also share valuable income earning and employment opportunities.

3. Information Sessions
Members of BILOG can have the opportunity to participate in information sessions that will provide important benchmarks for better, more relevant policies on migration management.  Those who willingly and voluntarily  participate in information sharing sessions will be generously thanked and recognized for their investment of time and openness at providing truthful information.

The flowchart below summarizes the five stakeholders of the proposed BILOG group and its key activities.

Flowchart of the Filipino Irregular Migrants' Group

Two Key Concerns: Verification and Confidentiality of Membership
Past and current Filipino irregular migrants in Japan will sign-up via a website to apply for membership.  Their real names (or those consistent with their passports) have to be used when registering in order to proper verification.  The verification protocol will be the source of legitimacy and credibility of the group's membership.

A three-step process of verification will be employed.  First, scanned copies of documents that can prove that one was or is a Filipino Overstayer in Japan will be included in the registration process.  As it is possible to fabricate almost any kind of document, a second-level verification is necessary.  Second, the list of those who signed up will be reviewed by a Philippine government agency and those who are not on their list of having departed for and overstayed in Japan will be stricken off.  Third, as a final verification, this list will be provided to a Japanese organization which, together with a Japan government office, will also strike out names that have have no record of having actually entered Japan.

It must be noted here that no residence address or contact information other than email address will be asked of the members of BILOG.

Devil's advocates are needed to further streamline and clarify this out-of-the-box idea.  Can you cite reasons why this idea will not work?

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