IFRC SECRETARY GENERAL, ELHADJ AS SY Address to Manila Conference on Labour Migration 13 May 2015

Publié: 13 mai 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are here today united as one beautiful rainbow community, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. We are the Red Cross Red Crescent, we are there all the time on the side of communities to accompany them to respond to their needs.

We come from and emanate from those very communities that are affected. We can build the trust, build the respect, understand the cultures and the social-economic dynamics that allow us to overcome bottlenecks and to build on the enabling factors to get to success.

We talked a lot about migration, labour migration and with a great percentage of female domestic workers. It is very important to have the opportunities we have had these last two days to reflect on that, with only one aim at the end of the day, the search for solutions to the problems of people.

And when we talk about those problems we try to illustrate them through numbers and figures and we've heard so many of them over the last two days. We heard about the 232 million labour migrants. Well, if then we were putting those numbers of people as citizens of one country they would be representing one of the largest countries on Earth.

We talk about the 52 to 100 million that are domestic workers, and because of the very nature of that work, about 80 per cent of them are women.

We talk about their vulnerabilities, trying to describe them in numbers again.

We talk about the billions of dollars that are coming into remittances, and quite often we forget about the most essential part of that, which is simply put: it is not about numbers, it is not about figures, it is simply about people.

Behind every unit of this number there is a human being, there is a brother or a sister, there is a father or a mother, like you and me, who are trying on a daily basis to improve their own lives and to seek for better opportunities to care for their children and their loved ones.

When they were talking about migrant labour in Switzerland, I remembered the Swiss author Max Frisch who in a very sarcastic way said: " Our problem is that every time we ask for a labour force, human beings come.”

Well, he is right. Human beings do come they come with their own colour of skin, which may be different, they come with their own colour of eyes, may be different, they come with their own hair which is different. They come speaking a different language, they wear colorful clothes, they may be louder than you are used to. They sing and dance, they pray in different ways. But simply put, they come as they are, they come as human beings.

And they get hurt, they get hope, they cry, they suffer and if they do suffer, like sometimes when it happens as we have witnessed over the last weeks over the Mediterranean Sea, where 1,800, another number again, get drowned in the sea while trying to reach Europe.

I used to say each of them, who drowned in that Sea, took one part of our own humanity. A part of us drowned with them.

And these migrant workers we are talking about and who are suffering in different parts of the world, a part of our own humanity suffers with them.

Well, again, it is very easy to capture a number as I've said, but numbers will never tell stories. They don't tell the stories of hope, they don't tell the stories of separation and pain, but neither, some good stories that express the best in us, most of the time.

Domestic workers who are loved like the children of their host families, domestic workers who take care of the elderly and of the children like they do with their own family, showing us another expression of humanity, that no matter what it seems to be dividing us, be it the way we look or the geographic confine we are coming from, there is one basic fact that we all respond to our shared humanity.

There are a million reasons for people to move. Some do it because they don't have any other choice, they do it because they lost what is dearest to them, which is their human dignity, and so they try everything possible to recover it. They do it because they are fleeing out of conflict, where they have nothing and nothing more to lose. They do it because of poverty and have to travel and develop strategies for survival for them and their loved ones to survive.

They do it sometimes simply because it is a choice. We are living in a world that is more interconnected than ever before. We live in a world that is more global than ever before, and entrenchments of frontiers will never prevent people from wanting to move far ahead. And that is what happened in history most of the time, they were not always called migrants, if you like a bit of music I would recommend you a beautiful song called Christopher Columbus:

 “He says he was the first man who discovered Jamaica,

“But what about my grandfather who was there before him.”

Well, those migrants were at times called explorers, and there were also times when they were called settlers, and at other times, migrants were even called pioneers. And today, many times they are labeled simply, lumped together, under one heading, “migrants” and often times, with a qualification of illegal. There is nothing like an illegal human being, there is nothing like this qualification.

We are the Red Cross and Red Crescent, we cannot accept that because indeed, behind every migrant or so-called migrant, there is a person, like you and me.

Support to the people on the move has always been a Cornerstone of what we've been doing, since the creation of our Movement. Remember we were created out of a battlefield called Solferino where the suffering of human beings were untenable and there were some people that did not accept the indifference and said that we are not helpless, we can do something about this.

Today more than ever before, we should halt the indifference that this world is suffering from and be convinced that we can do something about it.

The Philippines Red Cross is the leader in terms of support to labour migrants, and you could witness that over the last two days and beyond, but you are not alone.

In Central Asia, I could quote the example of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajokistan, Uzbekistan, all these inform their labour migrants about their rights and advocate on their behalf. They continue to run campaigns to target discrimination and xenophobia, and provide basic services to those marginalized groups, including legal services, psychological support, health care and even employment and language training, as we've discussed in the last two days.

In Spain, we have seen the Red Cross fighting discrimination in labour markets, making sure that migrant workers are paid fairly, running campaigns that encourage people to look closer – look closer to see the faces, the faces behind the label. And in doing so, we realize that the reflection of your own image can be read in the eyes of these human beings.

We see the same in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we see the same in many other parts of the world, in a country like Lebanon that finds itself having 25 per cent of its own population being composed of people from abroad. They are over a million in Jordan, they are over another million in Turkey.

Again numbers that try to capture the reality of the situation, but they will never capture it until it comes very close to home and that every person that is affected is either the friend, is either a family member, and a loved one, and then it comes home and we know what it means.

As we have heard over the past two days, more needs to be done to support these people, including by us, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, we, this Movement, this formidable, as I used to call it, rainbow community that unites everybody in our shared humanity.

Let me applaud the Philippines Red Cross Proposal for a call centre for foreign domestic workers. We wish you success in that, because if it is successful, it can provide us with a platform for all, not only the Philippines.

This is a type of approach which we believe can be fruitful and provide the base for a foundation that could make a meaningful difference for some of those people who have become invisible. We say no, they are not invisible; we are simply not looking at them.

It is also an example of the type of innovative approaches that we need to adopt and I am glad that we have spent time looking at innovation and how innovation and new technologies can contribute to making us more effective, bringing us closer to each other.

Are we using them all? Let’s reflect on it. How much are we using the digital tools that already exist, from Facebook to Twitter and others. Some people in need may call the call centre and that is important. But so many others are talking, so many are crying, so many are looking for help, but we should always ask ourselves; are we listening? Are we hearing them? Are we responding to their needs?

Responding to the multitude of challenges that migration can cause requires engagement at all stages along the migration path; in the countries of origin, it is not enough to point fingers and then blame host countries, be they in Europe or the Middle East – we have to start at home, before people leave. So that they can get information, make informed choices, and also be empowered with the knowledge, with the protection that allows them to undertake the journey.

That path is always paved by so many stations and at each of the stations there is a Red Cross and Red Crescent, and that is the reason why nobody is better placed than us to respond alongside that journey.

 It is so heartening to see, here united, people from countries where most migrants are coming from, as well as, brothers and sisters from countries where most migrants are coming and working into, here again, showing what is uniting us in providing support to the same people.

 It is time to halt the indifference of the world and to continue to shed light on the issue. You may have seen recently a situation in the Mediterranean Sea reported on TV. I was in Sicily, in Catania, where tens of cameras of TV stations from around the world came down to film 28 people who had survived, the hundred, two hundred that they were waiting for never arrived, they drowned.

We saw once again the perverse indifference about what these people and others like them have gone through.

We know of examples of (news articles) talking about boats that capsized. It is not about the boats, it is all about the people inside the boat that nobody was talking about.

It struck me again in the recent months, how indifferent people are in the face of so many lost lives of people on the move, in the face of the plight of asylum seekers. Does that may mean that we are getting to a level of saturation that we no longer get angry, that we no longer get sad, that we no longer get impatient, that our level of tolerance of the unacceptable and intolerable is getting higher and higher? That may be one of the biggest risks that we face.

Well, that is the reason why, we will be soon launching a new global campaign in an effort to tackle this growing lack of empathy. Using the immediacy of social media, we will try and create and communicate, a sense of compassion for the people who are made vulnerable through their decisions to leave their home countries, no matter what the motives behind those decisions are.

We call on people to recognize the people behind the numbers and behind the label, we will call to our common sense of humanity targeting the audiences in countries of destination, but also, communities in countries of origin and countries along the major migration routes.

You are the representatives and the leaders of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

You are the heroes of many. So many look up to you, young people, who wish when they grow up to be like you. Many were watching and sitting in the margin admiring your work and one day decide to join the Movement because of the examples and the leadership you've shown.

Let me salute your leadership.

Leadership can mean so many things, but at the end of the day, it is nothing but finding solutions to the problems of people. Leadership is not only about the people of your country, but every human being in your country, no matter how people try to portray their differences. Leadership is what you have demonstrated over these days.

Senator Gordon, let me salute you, as the leader of the Philippine Red Cross and our host. Let me salute you a member of the Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. You have been always consistent. Consistent in your empathy, your compassion, your anger when it is required, your love and your hope when it is needed.

Let me also salute the many young people, that we've met here.

Anyone who travels to Geneva sometimes when they get out of the plane and walks the whole long way to immigration, you will see this beautiful picture of an advertisement to a very expensive watch called Patek Philippe. The advertisement says: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

We don't own the Red Cross or Red Crescent, we only look after it for the next generation.

So my last word goes to you, our young people; lead us, lead us in the future, and be sure we will always be on your side to do everything possible to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, and always on your side to walk the last mile, the extra mile to the hardest to reach, to the ones that seem to be forgotten, the ones that we call invisible. But if we make one small effort, we will see them well, because they send us back the reflection of our own humanity.

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be with you.