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Salaysay: FREE MOVEMENT (Part III)

IRREGULAR migrants are those who leave their countries without proper documentation like valid residence or work permits, or even those with proper documentation but who eventually lost their legitimate status or have overstayed in foreign countries.

France follows the United States and Malaysia as among the top five destinations of irregular Filipino migrants.

Most of these countries are immigration-restrictive regimes suffering labor shortages.

To understand that concept, I went to the 16th Area in Paris where the wealthy French and foreign businessmen live.

Here, capital is abundant. So are female and male Filipino cleaners and babysitters.

Filipinos walking along Victor Hugo Avenue have imbibed the French culture of not talking to strangers.

I gathered up courage and ambled to a group of talking Filipinos.

“Kamusta (How are you)?”

They told me they just appear snobbish because most of them are always on guard for raids and for things like what happened to Teresa.

They couldn’t be blamed; the work and the perks are also abundant here.

So said Cris, who gets 10 euros an hour from a woman with a business in Florida, United States, for cleaning her four-storey house in the 16th Area.

The honking of motorcycle horns on the streets is muted inside where Filipino performers work out the crowd to a dancing frenzy with their music.

“See, it’s already late in the evening, and you can still sense the Vietnamese going somewhere to do something important,” Abiang said as we stepped out of the hotel to escape the cigarette smoke engulfing the bar.

That’s why, she said, “Vietnam is visibly progressing, unlike the Philippines.”

It is the hard work of Abiang and her co-workers that moves an economically-struggling Philippines.

The country’s army of workers in France, Malaysia, Vietnam, and 190 other countries allowed the Philippine government to enjoy the billion-dollar remittance bonanza, according to economist Ernesto M. Pernia.

Countries poorer than or as poor as the Philippines have also reaped benefits.

International migration is “the single greatest poverty reduction effort in human history,” said social work professor Cindy Hunter, at a conference in Tours, France.

                   ***

“THEY came when I was still in bed, shaking off the post-evening kinks,” Teresa said.

The two Filipinos kicked down the door to her room and took turns punching and slapping her while half of Paris was still asleep.

Teresa suspects the two men attacked her on orders of the husband of her landlady, the Filipina who convinced her to go underground in Paris.

Her husband thought I squealed to his wife that he was banging another Filipina, the 32-year-old Teresa said.

“How can I do so when his wife was getting plugged by another Filipino?”

Undocumented Filipino migrant workers sleeping in other rooms woke up and forced Teresa’s attacker to flee a possible mob lynching.

Her fellow workers goaded her into reporting the attack to the French police.

She was trembling when they were taking photos of her bruises, but not because of the violence she was subjected to.

Her employer would pay a hefty fine for employing an illegal migrant.

“I was telling myself, ‘No matter what happens, I’m not going to tell the police who my employer is,’” Teresa said. At the time of the attack, Teresa was working as a babysitter.

She was surprised, she said, when the police informed her they knew she was undocumented.

“They just told me to assert my rights – to organize.”

One of her attackers was arrested and was deported. His partner, according to Teresa, was on the wind.

“He knew how to disappear.”

Most irregular migrants do and are able to do so because of two networks: the train system and the social network.

While applying for a Schengen visa takes a month, it takes less than 24 hours to arrive at the Amsterdam Airport Schipol in the Netherlands –the gates of Europe.

Nearing midnight, the place is a veritable ghost town.

When I raised my head after bending to pick up my shoulder bag, the people I was with in the airplane and in the line to the immigration counter vanished like vapor.

I never felt so alone as I pushed my 35-kilogram worth of bags and luggage up several non-operating escalators –the airport shuts these off to save electricity.

I felt so lonely as I counted each rung the soles of my leather shoes kissed: 30.

When I reached Paris by train, I hit the sack right away. The combination of sitting inside a floating steel tube for 12 hours across two time zones and pushing a luggage while reading a map was confounded by walking alone in the world’s supposedly busiest airport.

But the trains are a delight to foreigners in France. As it is easy to get lost within the system of overlapping trains and metro routes in Paris, it is also easy finding the right station to alight.

With the Schengen visa and train money, foreigners can easily disappear in five countries adjacent to France. Teresa’s assailant may be roaming Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, or even Switzerland.

Except for the last, all are members of the European Union, where the Schengen visa applies.

                   ***

IRREGULAR migrants are those who leave their countries without proper documentation like valid residence or work permits, or even those with proper documentation but who eventually lost their legitimate status or have overstayed in foreign countries.

France follows the United States and Malaysia as among the top five destinations of irregular Filipino migrants.

Most of these countries are immigration-restrictive regimes suffering labor shortages.

To understand that concept, I went to the 16th Area in Paris where the wealthy French and foreign businessmen live.

Here, capital is abundant. So are female and male Filipino cleaners and babysitters.

Filipinos walking along Victor Hugo Avenue have imbibed the French culture of not talking to strangers.

I gathered up courage and ambled to a group of talking Filipinos.

“Kamusta (How are you)?”

They told me they just appear snobbish because most of them are always on guard for raids and for things like what happened to Teresa.

They couldn’t be blamed; the work and the perks are also abundant here.

So said Cris, who gets 10 euros an hour from a woman with a business in Florida, United States, for cleaning her four-storey house in the 16th Area.

The rate for a dinner party with 150 guests is different. “She bought me two signature suits,” the worker of four years narrated, “when she told me I should be a waiter for a party at her home.”

Days later, the employer and the employee met.

“By the way,” Cris recalled her employer saying, “have my Pentium Centrino duo laptop: It’s old.”

Employees in the 16th area, where Cris lives, are lucky; employers can be generous.

The annual independence day event last July gathered more than 3,000 Filipinos – including hundreds of them pushing strollers carrying their own children, and others carrying children of their employers.

One Filipina gave finger food to a one-year-old blonde girl in a stroller. Another Filipina was beside her baby when the toddler’s parents came and carried the kid out of her stroller.

“Thank you so much,” said the couple in struggling English. “Go have some fun out here.”

Jean-Pierre Garson of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calls the 16th Area the “street of immigration”

Rue La Muette, also in the 16th Area, is quiet on the outside and “clean on the inside,” added Garson, OECD’s international migration section head, “due to the hard work of foreigners.”

The foreign workers there are “very well organized,” he added.#