Thank you, Iceland
This year’s United Nations observance of International Migrants Day, usually a platform to air the dark side of Filipino diaspora and a day to lament the struggles and problems of migrants all over the world, takes on a positive note. Thanks to Filipinos working in Europe and, without meaning to trivialize the situation, supertyphoon Yolanda.
International Migrants Day is marked worldwide every Dec. 18 to celebrate the contributions, struggles and rights of migrant communities.
There are 200 million migrants all over the world, according to 2005 figures by the Global Commission on International Migration. In the ’70s when migration was happening simultaneously in different countries across the globe, the number of migrants worldwide was 75 million.
The sharp increase of migrants over the past three decades is happening “due to the growing developmental, demographic and democratic disparities that existed between different world regions.” Moreover, migration is driven by powerful economic, social and political forces that governments need to acknowledge as a reality, according to the international body.
There are 10 million Filipino overseas contract workers, according to latest figures by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. That’s roughly 10 percent of our total population of 100 million. Filipinos who leave the homeland to seek better opportunities in Canada, United States, Europe, Middle East, Japan, Australia and wealthy Asian countries do so because they feel they have a better chance at making it in other countries. The material rewards are tremendous but the obverse side presents psychological impact and social costs too heavy to be quantified.
The Filipino diaspora remains bracketed in the social perspective of poverty, absentee parenting and instant wealth that oftentimes cause families to crumble. The heavy toll caused by brain and brawn drain on the economy is another lamentation.
These are complex problems but it must be acknowledged that in the aftermath of supertyphoon Yolanda, the diaspora enabled pocket engagements by Filipino organizations working closely with foreign counterparts to come to the aid and rescue of disaster victims.
The response of overseas Filipinos to the devastation of Eastern Visayas did not get a lot of media exposure but in their host countries, some fund raising campaigns merited news articles in local newspapers because Pinoys took out their own money to donate to the Philippines when they themselves have families to support back home. In other words, they did not give out of their excess, but at the expense of their own needs.
The scene roused their foreign hosts from their comfortable bubble.
For example, in the Nordic island country of Iceland where some 1,500 Filipino professionals work in the energy and health care sectors, many cried and were worried sick after two calamities successively struck the Visayan islands.
I gathered this from my friend Lilia “Lee” Loque, a Cebuana who is currently based in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik.
Lee, a nurse by profession, told me Filipinos in Europe are interconnected through the organization called European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). ENFiD has chapters in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, and Norway. Meeting via Skype, they immediately planned how to send assistance back home.
Lee is an ENFiD representative in Iceland. She is also an active member of Project Pearl International-Mutya Iceland Team, another nongovernment organization composed of Filipinos, part-Filipinos and foreign nationals. Together with volunteers from other Filipino-Icelandic associations, they held a charity lunch buffet for the benefit of Yolanda victims.
The charity project touched the Pinoys because Icelanders including foreign expatriates supported it all the way.
According to Lee, Icelandic, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese businessmen donated food supplies. A Chinese businessman provided the venue free of charge. Fifty Filipino volunteers helped prepare the food and see to all the details of hosting a party. Since the program was in support of the United Nations Children’s Fund aid to the Philippines, the donations were channeled through the world body.
The government of Iceland has donated to the Philippines Fund Relief Support the amount of 12 Million ISK or P4 million. Red Cross Iceland has likewise sent a contingent to join in the humanitarian work of rescue and recovery. Just thinking about the overwhelming support and generosity of Icelanders made Lee cry.
To show heartfelt gratitude to their host countries, ENFiD decided this year’s celebration of International Migrants Day from Dec. 18 to 25 will be observed quite simply, by giving thanks to their generous host countries.
In Iceland, Lee’s group will mill around downtown Reykjavic to give Icelanders hugs, handshakes and pats on the back. The overseas workers will also give away chocolates, cupcakes and candies tucked with a message that captures our very own: “Thank you, Iceland from the bottom of our hearts.”
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