09/19/2018, 11.21
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Asia, a continent of migrants: a challenge and an opportunity for the world

by Bernardo Cervellera – Sumon Corraya

At the World Conference on Xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism in the context of world migration that opened yesterday, the theme is tackled from a Christian perspective. What are the most urgent problems related to migration?

Rome (AsiaNews) - Asia, the world's most populous continent (4.46 billion people), capable of generating more than 50% of world GDP, is one of the most significant sources of problems linked to migration and xenophobia.

According to UNHCR, there are at least 7.7 million people in the Asia-Pacific region under the aegis of UN aid. Of these 3.5 million are refugees; 1.9 million are internally displaced; 1.4 million stateless and without nationality.

It is obvious that the real figures are much larger, but difficult to trace. It must be said that refugees, who avoid war or violence, often exploit the paths of general migration, going to countries where work and perhaps peace can be found.

Migrant workers move from their economically less developed countries to richer countries. For this reason alone, millions of people travel in search of fortune from the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Nepal, to countries like Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and the Middle East . According to the ILO, in 2015 this flow of people reached 25.8 million in the Asia-Pacific region and about 17 million in the Arab states.

Most governments in Asian countries exploit nationalism and - if not racism - at least the pride of their race as a social cement, to support the unity of their young nations.

Up to now, migrations have been hampered in some way and xenophobia was often motivated by the fear that migrants would steal work from the local inhabitants. But at present, in several States, the real ally in combatting xenophobia is the demographic crisis that is affecting so many developed countries. This crisis leads to a reduction in the labor-force and an increase in social spending on health and pensions. Several demographers, such as James Liang, argue that a high rate of population growth, which rejuvenates, supports not only the workforce, but also the capacity for innovation and risk in society. This means that future inventiveness and growth in terms of GDP belongs to countries that support births or that allow migrants to enter their territory.

This is why - even if with difficulty - more and more countries are opening their doors to foreigners.

The most typical example is Japan which has a fertility rate of 1.4 and an ever decreasing and aging population. From next April, the government will open a new agency to manage and increase the flows of migrant workers who will enter Japan in the coming years. In particular, for the 2020 Olympics, Japanese society needs hundreds of thousands of workers of all kinds: they need laborers to build the stadiums, but also skilled people to welcome the millions of future tourists. The Tokyo government has also assured that it will give a new residential status to migrant workers. This because to date migrants generally arrive in Japan on a tourist visa and then find work but only on a low-paid apprentices' visa, and can stay in the country for only a few years.

In addition there are more hidden problems: the migrants arrive in Japan through brokers, figures who contact workers in their countries of origin, and act a s a liaison with Japanese companies. They guarantee a job and the outbound journey by plane. But all for a fee that migrants must repay and they find it difficult to do so because of their low salaries.

Then there is the scourge of prostitution. There are many women, especially Filipino, Vietnamese and Thai, who come to Japan as 'apprentices' and work in shops and factories during the day. In the evening and at night they work in the sex trade.

Like many fellow nationals, the girls are attracted to the mirage of a job that would allow them to make a lot of money. But it is not the truth. The employer has relationships with prostitution clubs, and sometimes confiscates their passport, so they cannot escape.

Many missionaries are engaged in helping migrants in Japan, but their work so far only manages to support them in everyday life and in the most essential needs, not at the formal and legal level. There is a need for a structured reception of migrants not only because forced upon society by demographics, but the fruit of change of mentality, passing from the vision of a "homogeneous" society to a multicultural one.

As for the reception of refugees in 2017, out of 19 thousand asylum applications, Japan has recognized refugee status for only 100 people.

The need for labor force ahead of the 2022 World Cup, and the criticism of the international community have been the impetus for Qatar to improve the laws for migrant workers employed as collaborators and domestic workers. Domestic workers - usually all foreigners - will be allowed to work for up to 10 hours per day, receive monthly payments and have one day off per week, as well as three weeks of vacation during the year. At the end of the contract the workers will also receive a payment corresponding to three weeks of payment for each year of service. In the past, many foreign women employed in the country were forced to work for 100 hours a week. In addition, their passports were taken from them, their payment was withheld, and many were victims of physical and sexual violence.

Qatar is not the only country in the area to be accused of abuses against foreign workers. In 2015, Indonesia announced that it would stop sending domestic staff to 21 countries in the Middle East region precisely because of the mistreatment they suffered.

We cannot speak of xenophobia and racism in Asia without addressing what has been defined by many as the most serious refugee crisis of our time. Although in terms of numbers, the Afghan refugee crisis is undoubtedly more numerous with more than six million refugees between Pakistan and Iran, the Rohingya crisis is perhaps the most painful because they are rejected not only by Myanmar but also by other countries where they have sought refuge . Several observers have defined the Rohingya as the most persecuted minority in the world.

Mostly Muslims, this minority from Myanmar is treated by many Burmese Buddhists as a group of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. And although many of them have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are denied Burmese citizenship.

Since August 25 last their situation has worsened, becoming increasingly urgent. Clashes with some Rohingya militants, the Burmese security forces and Buddhist extremists triggered endless violence, driving the population from Rakhine State and blocking humanitarian operations.

According to Médecins sans frontières, 6700 Rohingya were killed between August 25th and September 24th last year. This includes 730 children under three years of age. The Burmese government defended itself by saying they had fought against terrorists.

At present there are between 700,000 and one million refugees on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The government of Dhaka has asked Myanmar to take them back, but so far few have returned. Meanwhile, humanitarian operations have resumed in central Rakhine, but not in North Rakhine, where there is ongoing episodes of violence.

Our correspondent says: I want to present some facts about the Rohingya crisis, to understand what we should do as a human family and as followers of compassionate Jesus.

Bangladesh granted Rohingya entry

Last year, thousands of Rohingya attempted to enter Bangladesh as the conflict broke out. In the first three days the Dhaka government refused entry. But those the border guards and police could not withstand the suffering of the refugees and allowed them to enter out of compassion for their devastation: many of them had arrived on foot, by boat, swimming, walking on roads for days. Most of them had left behind their loved ones, after witnessing killing, rapes, the worst persecution.

Thus, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina responded to the crisis. She met the Rohingya in Cox's Bazar, where they were refugees and offered shelter. Sheikh Hasina stated that she would offer temporary shelter and help, but that Myanmar would soon have to "take back its citizens".

Some Rohingya stories (entrusted to our correspondent)

Motalab Ahmed, a 65-year-old Rohingya, has been living in Kutupalong Camp 1 for one year. He says: "I had a pharmacy in the Mundu district, in Myanmar. But as a Muslim, they began to persecute me and from being a rich merchant I became a beggar. "

Roksana, 10, does not want to remember what happened to her parents last year at the end of September. Her father was killed in front of her and her mother was raped in front of her eyes. She and her mother arrived in Bangladesh after three days of walking. Along the way they ate grass to survive.

Akasha, a 70-year-old woman, arrived on her son's shoulders. Through her tears she says: "I had never seen a similar persecution: the Burmese soldiers stopped at nothing, raping even an elderly woman. Rape, fires, hunting raids and we were the prey. But what sin did we commit? We were born in Myanmar, we did not hurt others. We have to thank the government of Bangladesh and to all the international donors, who are helping us in the camps ".

Speaking with many Rohingya, from the bottom of their hearts they say they want to go home. They have left the place where they were born because of lack of respect and security. They also reaffirm their love for the nation they consider their motherland and say that they have become refugees because of the persecution of their faith, for political and economic reasons.

The challenges

About one million Rohingya live in the districts of Banzarban and Cox's Bazar, on the border with Myanmar. Their main challenges are access to food, shelter, medicine, safety, education. According to Unicef, 60 children are born in Rohingya camps every day. Many teenagers and women, have thrown themselves into prostitution in order to earn money to survive. There are many NGOs working there, but they give the same things: rice, oil, but not fish. So the refugees sell rice and oil in local markets to buy meat and fish. Without any work, Rohingya men and women, bored, are often involved in criminal actions. The situation is growing more serous every day. Local media report police data: in the first eight months since August 2017, 20 murders and 160 incidents or other violence occurred in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The response of the NGOs

At present there are about 100 NGOs working for Rohingya refugees. Among these is Caritas-Bangladesh, which was the first to arrive and take action. Caritas operates in the area with 200 employees and offers food, shelter, medical care, cleaning tools, etc.

During his visit last year, Pope Francis met some Rohingya in Dhaka. Listening to their stories, the Holy Father cried.


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