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SALAYSAY: FREE MOVEMENT (Reprinted from OFW Journalism Consortium)

PARIS, FRANCE — TERESA winced as if the camera flash hit her – just like she did when two men mauled her in her room here early morning three years ago.

“It just feels like it happened yesterday, you know, because I’m still illegal, undocumented, irregular, whatever,” she said, waving her arms as if the bad memories could be waved off like fruit flies.

I stopped taking pictures of her and started taking photographs of Parc-du-Saint-Cloud, the residence of Marie Antoinette before she was guillotined during the French Revolution.

It was the last stop of a free tour Teresa gave me after meeting at a Filipino store that she frequents.

“C’mon, it’s a good day to walk; I’ll show you around,” she said hours earlier and led the way to the Eiffel Tower and then to the Trocadero station.

It was windy that early afternoon but she would take her hands out of her wool jacket pocket to point at the places tourists frequent.

She walked briskly, as if the wind were sweeping her towards Trocadero.

“This is where most migrant workers’ life Paris begins,” Teresa said, nodding her head towards the station.

“What do you mean,” I asked.

Before she could reply, a group of Filipinos waved to Teresa and raised a thumb.

“See? During peak seasons for tourists here, Filipinos like them walk up to you and talk you into staying,” Teresa said.

That was how it went with her.

Brought to the City of Lights with her globe-trotting Saudi Arabian employer, Teresa struck a conversation with a fellow Filipino.

“She convinced me to run away, which I did, because she promised to help me find a job here. It was that easy.”

While sitting at the steps of where a mob could have dragged down Marie Antoinette to her death, Teresa continued her story.

Her story reveals there has never been a time than now when it’s easier for workers to move around despite of, in spite of, and even against greater state control over migration.

While many labor-sending and -receiving countries have tried time and again to restrict or manage labor flows, they have failed to impose such control over people like Teresa who, incidentally, is on her sixth year in France.

What many migration control schemes may have missed, or continue to miss, is that the human instinct for survival grows in proportion to the level of hope that migration offers.

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THEY’VE been called “undocumented,” “irregular,” or “illegal” migrants and they form nearly 9 percent of the total 7 million permanent residents and temporary workers outside the Philippines.

That figure was last year’s and is based on government estimates. The number could go higher as Filipinos discover newer and newer ways of getting out of the country.

The Philippine government has identified a dozen schemes that Filipinos use to cloak their passage and secure employment overseas.

Among Southeast Asian countries, the absence of a visa requirement, for one, allows migrant workers to jump from one country to another within and outside the region.

Visa-free privileges are being used as alternatives to recruiters, thereby spawning irregular migration, a report by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas said.

Malaysia, for instance, doesn’t even require embarkation cards.

At Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport, a male immigration officer just placed the page of my passport bearing my photo under a beam of blue light that I guess could either be a portable camera or scanner.

“We are computerized, and our database can easily spot overstaying foreigners,” he said as he stamped my passport with the date of my arrival and the expected date of my departure from his country.

As it is easy to enter Malaysia, it is also easy for one to leave –boarding a train on a non-stop travel to the airport. The system even allows travelers to check in their luggage from the train station.

“Foreigners are welcome in our country, but they should not overstay,” a consul at the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur quoted Malaysian counterparts as saying.

   (To be continued)