Empowering foreign workers to report Human Trafficking Crimes

#StoptraffickingSG Press Conference

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Yesterday’s press conference presenting #StoptraffickingSG’s reaction to the proposed Bill, and the discussion afterwards, provided an unique opportunity to hear the combined voice of six influential Singapore’s NGO’s. What was their message? That without a clearly defined victim-centred approach, this Bill that aims to combat human trafficking, will not be effective.

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HOME’s Jolovan Wham kicked off, by giving an in-depth explanation of the joint campaign’s point of view on the proposed Bill. He stressed that one of the most important rights that victims of Human Trafficking need, is the right to work during on-going investigations. In many cases seen at HOME, foreign workers ask ‘can I work if I file the complaint?’ When the answer is negative, many decide not to proceed with the case. They simply cannot afford to, as they have a family to feed. In HOME’s experience, investigations can take up to two years, or more, to be concluded. In that time the foreign worker is often completely dependent on charity, being fed, housed and cared for by NGO’s that receive no government funding.

Another important right that foreign workers need is the one not to be prosecuted themselves. Traffickers are very much aware of the fear that foreign workers have for the authorities, and use this effectively to deter them from filing complaints. According to Jolovan Wham, employers will threaten: ‘If you file a case against me, you will go to jail yourself, or get the cane.’

These examples aim to show that the Bill should not be just about the prosecution of perpetrators, but about incentivising victims to come forward.

This point was further stressed by Vanessa Ho from Project X, who not long ago witnessed a raid on suspected traffickers in the sex industry. A large group of police officers, armed with batons and tasers, surrounded the area and rounded up suspects in a loud and violent way. Raid likes these are known to cause secondary trauma to victims. As Vanessa put it ‘it is important to empower foreign workers to report crimes, rather than to break down doors to find them.’

Maruah president Braema Mathi added that the Bill makes a mention of the word decency, and asked whether raids like this, which are violent and often rather public, could be considered decent when it comes to safeguarding the victims? She was relieved to see that not only sex work, but also forced labour has been mentioned in the proposed Bill, but stressed that many points in the Bill need more clarification, before there can be any way of knowing whether this Bill will be good enough.

Campaign leader Peck Hoon Tam explained how the Bill seems biased towards victims of sex labour, just like many people think of ‘the perfect victim’ of human trafficking, a girl deceived and forced into prostitution. Reality is much more complicated, and in Singapore often concerns forced labour or domestic workers. It is important that the Bill reflects reality.

Outreach to foreign workers, by means of NGO’s and hotlines to make foreign workers aware of their rights, is an effective way to get victims of trafficking to step forward, especially if the government provides them with shelter, the right to work and protection from prosecution.

Vivienne Wee from AWARE spoke about the issue of deception, and the root cause of trafficking in persons: the profit that the trafficker makes. It needs to be clear that profit is not always a direct payment, but can also refer to other ways in which the trafficker profits. These can be illegitimate salary deductions, non-payment of salary or many others.

Another important issue that was stressed by many of the NGO’s is that while the Bill focuses solely on Singapore, human trafficking is in fact an international problem. John Gee from TWC2 explained that human trafficking is an on-going process, and usually not committed by one person but by a chain of people that crosses borders. The end user is complicit as well as the recruiter.

International aspects also need to be addressed when victims of human trafficking go back to their home countries. Someone may wait for them on their return, their families may be threatened, and victims that are in debt are often re-trafficked.

All NGO’s present agreed that key terms in the proposed Bill, like ‘forced labour’ and ‘deception’, are not defined clearly, and that it must be made clear which indicators will be used in identifying potential victims of trafficking.

HOME hopes that the debate in Parliament will further clarify all issues mentioned, and that the representatives of the press present at the meeting will help raise questions in Singapore society.

Myanmar Expats extend Helping Hands to Domestic Workers

“I get about 10 messages a day, either on the phone or Facebook. Most of them come after 10pm when the ladies finish work” Kitty Aye Mar Mar explains. “Sometimes they just want advice on how things work in Singapore, but sometimes they need urgent help”. Continue reading Myanmar Expats extend Helping Hands to Domestic Workers

HOME Turns 10! Help us celebrate and become a sponsor

Help us celebrate and continue to serve the Migrant Workers of Singapore.

Since 2004 HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics) has provided welfare assistance, advocacy, and social integration services for migrant workers in Singapore. There are more than 1 million migrant workers in Singapore. They do the jobs many of us don’t want to do, but there are very few places they can go for assistance when they are in need. Every year approximately 3000 migrant workers receive direct assistance from HOME via our toll-free helpline, emergency shelters, vocational training, legal aid, health services and education programs.

To celebrate HOME’s 10th Anniversary we are holding an end of year luncheon for the migrant workers we assist. We will invite around 500 migrant workers who will not have the opportunity to be with their families over the holiday period. The occasion will provide them with an opportunity to celebrate with friends.

To fund this event and to raise money to help us continue providing the vital services we deliver, we are asking for donors to sponsor a seat or a table for migrant workers at our luncheon. For just $100 you can sponsor a place at the luncheon for a migrant worker and contribute to HOME’s on-going work.

Sponsorship options include:

  1. Sponsor a Seat: $100 per seat
  2. Sponsor a Table: $1000 per table
  3. Silver sponsor: $2000 per table + Silver sponsor status *
  4. Gold sponsor: $3000 per table + Gold sponsor status*
  5. Diamond sponsor: $5000 per table + Diamond sponsor status*

(All sponsors are eligible for a tax deductible receipt.)

Sponsor here: https://homemigrants10.eventbrite.sg

For a HOME fact sheet, please see our event profile page: http://homemigrants.eventbrite.sg

For more information about our activities, please visit our website: www.home.org.sg

 

*Acknowledgement of sponsorship will be placed on HOME’s sponsor page on our website, with names of individual sponsors and company logos.

 

 

Four Dutch girls, two tandems and 14.000 kilometers

Where some people go backpacking for a bit after graduation, these four young Dutch girls are looking for a larger adventure. In just over a year they will cycle from Jakarta to Amsterdam. On two tandems. And not only that, they do it for a good cause: to raise awareness for women’s rights. A ‘Ride 4 Women’s Rights.’

A few weeks after their departure from Jakarta Carlijn, Monique, Lidewij and Sophie arrived in Singapore. The Dutch girls were invited to join our Dreams Class, where we dreamed about our prospective future’s together with domestic workers staying at the HOME shelter. We found that, although the contestants came from very different countries (the Netherlands, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Greece) their dreams were not that different. We all wanted to start our own companies, build our dream house and be able to take care of our loved ones. Also, visualising their own dreams helped the girls as a reminder and motivation of their road to realisation of that special dream, their ride for women’s rights.

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The day after the four women cycled on, over the causeway to Malaysia, but luckily there was time for a quick interview. How did they get the idea for this challenging journey? It turned out not to be the first time these women, that have been friends since primary school, travelled together. This time they wanted to do something different. ‘It was on our last trip that we realised that students like us are very self-centered. We took all our opportunities for self-development for grated, without stopping to think how special they are. Because we are all quite sporty, we wanted to add a challenge. To be aware, for 400 days, whilst cycling, of women’s rights, will be an unforgettable exploration. So that is how we started the ‘Ride for Women’s rights.’

The four women will visit various local projects that support women’s rights, and share their stories on their website. So far the group cycled through Indonesia to Singapore, neighbouring countries but which are worlds apart. Singapore impressed them as being ‘futuristic, grand, visionary, and full of expats.’ The ladies of R4WR don’t like to judge. Their journey is one of exploration. Yet they have to admit that Singapore is more modern, and much wealthier than Indonesia. The visit to HOME showed them that ‘beneath the veneer of Singapore there is a darker area, where for instance migrants rights are not always heard.’ 

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How does the public respond to four cycling Dutch girls? ‘When in the busy Indonesian traffic two red tandems appear, men, women as well as children laugh their heads off. There is astonishment, but we also get positive reactions, when we tell that we will cycle 14000 kilometres from Jakarta to Amsterdam to raise awareness on women’s rights. Four girls cycling? Really…from Jakarta to Rembang? O no, all the way up to Amsterdam?’ They had not expected all these positive reactions, and the sign, conversations and meetings that came forth made a lasting impression on the four.

Apart from the Far East they will cross the Middle East. All countries that are not as safe as Singapore. Are they never afraid? ‘In the Netherlands we did training on how to handle aggressive situations. This was also a prerequisite for our parents and sponsors. Safety remains very important to us. In Indonesia we often slept at police stations, a golden concept. In every town or village we’d knock on the door at the local police office. After the first week police offices started to feel like home! Every office we slept at (on our mats) would provide us with a letter of recommendation for the next one. When we arrived at the last one, in Bali, we had 17 letters. Let’s hope this trick will work in other countries too.’ IMG-20141005-WA0013

After Singapore, Sophie, Carlijn, Monique and Lidewij will cycle through Malaysia, then Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar before entering the Middle East. If you want to follow their adventures, do check their website at www.r4wr.or or find them on facebook as R4WR.

And if you have any suggestions for projects to visit, or places to stay in any of these countries, don’t hesitate to drop them an email at info@r4wr.org

Finding the father: Rohini’s quest for justice

Rohini*, a domestic worker from Sri Lanka, met Sandeep, a Singaporean of Tamil descent, on the Internet. They chatted frequently, and Sandeep courted Rohini, wowing her with promises of love and marriage, and a good life in Singapore. When they finally met in real life, Rohini fell in love.

‘Day by day he was closer to my heart, and gave me hope of marriage.’

One day, Sandeep told Rohini he would like her to meet his parents. Happy to meet her prospective in-laws, Rohini followed Sandeep to his family home, only to find the parents absent. There, Sandeep argued forcefully that since they were getting married soon, they should consummate the relationship. Rohini preferred to wait, but eventually gave in.

A few weeks later Rohini found out she was pregnant. Sandeep was happy when he heard the news, renewed his promises of marriage, and took her to see a doctor. As Rohini was struggling with her tasks as a domestic worker, he suggested she go back to her parents in Sri Lanka to rest, for the benefit of the child. Sandeep sent her some money, but not nearly enough to support an expecting mother. She had to borrow money to pay her medical bills. Last November, Rohini gave birth to a little girl, Marika.

‘It is difficult to live in this society with a fatherless baby.’

Soon after Marika was born, Rohini never heard from Sandeep again. His number had been disconnected. Being a single mother is not easy in a conservative society like Sri Lanka, especially as Rohini’s family is poor. With a young baby to take care of, Rohini could not find a new job to pay off her loans. She decided to return to Singapore to find the child’s father and force him to take responsibility for her. Rohini filed a case with the Singapore Family Court for maintenance for his daughter.

‘My intention is to find him, marry him, and give my innocent daughter her father’s protection and love.’

Rohini still had hopes to marry Sandeep. But when the Court tracked him down, it turned out Sandeep had a wife already. HOME arranged for Rohini to be assisted by a pro bono lawyer, and eventually a financial settlement was agreed on.

‘If he rejects to marry me, I have no choice expect asking him for compensation.’

Rohini is happy with the outcome of the case. Even though she has not managed to convince Sandeep to marry her, her immediate financial problems are now solved. But she still has to face the shame of being a single mother, and raise her daughter alone. Just before being driven to the airport by Sandeep, she told HOME she was glad about her ‘happy ending.’

‘I am happy, I can give my daughter a future now.’

Rohini did not realise that under Singapore law, domestic workers are not allowed to marry Singaporean men without authorisation from the government. Pregnancy results in immediate deportation, and domestic workers often feel pressured to undergo abortion just to keep their jobs.

Rather than repatriate foreign domestic workers when they become pregnant, Hong Kong grants ten weeks of maternity leave to those that choose to return to work after they give birth. In this way the mothers can provide for their young children, which is especially important if they are a single parent.

Even if their partners are willing to ‘do the right thing’ and take responsibility for their actions, Singapore law does not encourage them to do so. Authorisation to get married is difficult to obtain, and living together unmarried is not socially accepted in many communities.

The result is that these children are likely to grow up in poverty, with a mother that is ostracised by society, and sometimes even rejected by her own family. It is in the best interest of the child that fathers are held accountable for their children’s upkeep.

During her stay in Singapore Rohini stayed at the HOME shelter, and was assisted with legal advice, a pro bono lawyer and supplies for her baby. Help HOME help others like her by donating at http://www.home.org.sg/give/donate.html.

* Rohini and Sandeep’s names have been changed to protect their privacy

Law and You: Legal education starts at HOME

 By Sneha Gupta

In 2014, I was part of a team of dedicated NUS Law students who worked closely with HOME to develop a series of workshops aimed at educating foreign domestic workers about their rights under Singapore law. Focusing particularly on employment and criminal law, the workshops sparked a dialogue between the NUS team and the workers about the difference between law on the books, and law in practice.

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The aim of the workshops was to empower foreign domestic workers by improving their understanding of the Singapore legal framework. We wanted to give workers a platform to discuss issues that they confront in their work and lives order to help the workers feel more confident about their position in Singapore. One of the big challenges for us was to explain the relevant law in a manner that was both simple and engaging and to take into account the divide that sometimes arises between law in theory and law in practice in Singapore.

Over four sessions, we talked with a group of around 20 domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia about employment issues like contracts, illegal deployment, salary deductions, rest days, safety issues, transfer and repatriation. We also discussed criminal law and procedure with the guidance of Josephus Tan, Associate Director at Fortis Law. What was especially noteworthy was the fact that the information flowed both ways— we learned a lot from the workers and were impressed by their creative ways of resolving the issues that had arisen for them.

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The NUS team felt gratified with the positive feedback after the sessions and an email from one participant thanking us for our passionate involvement. This project widened our perception of FDWs and their problems. It entailed a steep learning curve, as we were involved in all stages of preparation and presentation of the course. We came to appreciate the close relationship between law and society and how a little knowledge conveyed over a few sessions can go a long distance in making workers feel more secure in their workplaces.

Moving forward, we have realised that there is a need to reach out to foreign domestic workers who cannot take a day off to attend these sessions, as well as those who speak other languages. We plan to create an online portal to allow workers to access the answers to commonly asked questions about their rights and responsibilities living and working in Singapore.

To support HOME and NUS’s project to expand the reach of the Law & You course, please get in touch or make a donation here (www.sggives.org/home), specifying “Law & You” in the comment field.

HOME would like to thank NUS Law students Sneha, Jude, Daniel, Zhi Ying, Amelia, Sanjana and Yi Zhen and Professors Jaclyn and Sheila for their commitment and contribution to the project.

The power of education

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HOME could not do the work it does without a large number of volunteers, many of whom are migrant workers in Singapore themselves. Volunteer Cute, who was a teacher in the Philippines before starting work as a domestic worker in Singapore, spends much of her Sunday off helping and training migrant workers less fortunate than herself. We asked Cute to share her inspiring story.

Migration is not as easy as some people think. Being away from your home and your loved ones is hard, and not even money can cure the loneliness many migrants endure. Every migrant worker has a special story. This is mine.

In the Philippines my teacher salary was not enough for my family of eight siblings to survive, and life got even worse after my father got sick. Most of my siblings were still studying, so I decided to find work in Singapore.

Being a domestic worker is a really tough job, and during my first few years I had no day off. I had to pay eight months of salary to my recruitment agency, work 18 to 20 hours a day, and did not have adequate food. My faith in God as well as my determination to let my siblings finish their degrees made me strong, sacrificing even my own love life. My father always told us that the only wealth that he could give us was our education, and that no one could ever take that away from us. I took that lesson to heart.

It’s been 21 years since I left my beloved country, the Philippines, and the house I call home, where my siblings live and my father passed away. I miss him dearly. I did not get to see his face one final time, because my employer told me it would not give him his life back if I went home.

Having a day off is important for migrant workers. We can rest, unwind with friends, or learn new skills that help us prepare for our reintegration in our home countries. I believe my own involvement in HOME was the will of God. My feet brought me to the 6th floor of Lucky Plaza, where I met Sister Bridget, the founder of HOME. She welcomed me heartily, and told me about the mission of HOME. HOME gave me the opportunity to attend trainings, and teach seminars myself where I can share what I have learned. I had some great experiences though HOME. I even escorted Sister Bridget to Geneva, Switzerland, to witness the adoption of the International Labor Organisation’s Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers, an achievement that I’m very proud of.

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My contribution to HOME has the full support of my American employers. I have led the HOME ROSES group for 6 years. The HOME ROSES team is a group of domestic workers that assists HOME with migrant health issues, and gives training and workshops on HIV/ AIDS. I have also contributed to HOME’s newsletter ‘My voice’.

When Sister Bridget opened the HOME Academy, a Sunday school for migrant workers, I was keen to get involved. This year, I attended a special training given by the Philippine organization ATIKA, where I was trained to teach other migrants about financial planning. Attending this class will prepare them for a successful reintegration in their home country, so that they will live happily ever after.

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HOME gives a shelter, a hope and a home to unfortunate migrants, whether it is a woman or a man, regardless of their job, religion and nationality. I pray that HOME will exist forever, and can continue to help us.

GOD BLESS HOME and all the volunteers who devote their precious time, their talents & kindness.

WE LOVE YOU ALL

Sincerely

S.S. Rotelo (better know as Cute)

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is an anti-human trafficking organisation advocating empowerment and justice for all migrant workers in Singapore