- Posted August 29, 2013 by
Koronadal City, Philippines
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Everyday racism: Your stories
Hero or Outlaw.
Yesterday, when I read the story, published on ABS/CBN about “Sarah” an Overseas Filipino Worker that was discriminated and abused by her Kuwaiti employer and with support from her recruitment agency succeeded in putting him behind bars I was pleased, but not surprised.
A couple of years ago I met a young woman named Clarissa, she was regarded as one of the new heroes of modern days, by the Philippine government and her family. Clarissa did make a big sacrifice of leaving her family and love ones behind to provide a better future for all of them. Clarissa was not alone; there are more than millions of scattered Overseas Filipino Workers worldwide. All together they have remitted large sums of money worth billions in all kind or currencies to the Philippine’s economy in the last years. But Clarissa did not feel like a hero, her life as an illegal immigrant was in fact not a happy life. Clarissa lived in constant fear of being arrested and deported.
Clarissa, in 2009, she was 39 year old Philippine national, 7 years earlier she came to the Netherlands on a tourist visa and worked since then illegal for the owner of a restaurant in the center of the city, and many jobs in between. All those years she only spoke to her husband and family on the phone or by chatting on the Internet. Clarissa was working as an underpaid, domestic helper, she has to do well at her job, work hard, not complaining and most of the time seven days a week to have an income that will sustain herself and her family. She told me she was often discriminated and treated like a second-class citizen. I interviewed Clarissa in the house of her sister, in the city of Amsterdam. Supporting Clarissa is not possible; she and her husband are both supporting their own families in the Philippines as well. The couple has one daughter, but only two bedrooms, the house is comfortable but too small.
“I am tired and I am afraid”, Clarissa said and looked at me, the expression on her face told me she was in desperate need of help. Small tears were coming out the edges of her dark-brown eyes. I could see that she was really sad and homesick; I could feel she wants to go home to enjoy life with her family. “But I cannot go back, my family needs the money very badly, my passport is expired and my income is not enough to buy me a plane-ticket. I am sending almost all my income to my husband and kids. Especially for my four children, they need a good education, I have to take care that they do not end up like me. It is very hard not being able to see my husband, children and relatives for a long time”. “There is hardly any privacy and my social life is limited”, Clarissa continued, I could see that her misery is taking its toll. “I always am afraid of being caught by the police; I have to be very careful of my steps in daily life. I am fortunate and grateful that I can stay with my sister but I still feel isolated and do not have many friends, you might never know who will betray you. It feels like living in the shadow of many other people every day, it feels like being on the run every time. I am so tired of looking back over my shoulder, just wondering who is watching me”.
Clarissa was just one of the estimated 46.000 illegal aliens in the Netherlands, the exact number is yet unknown. She was lucky to have a regular job, but there was no security in keeping it, she could lose her job any day. People like Clarissa have no rights; they cannot appeal to social services and have no access to education and health care, when getting sick there is hardly any way of getting medical help. In fact not all illegal OFW’s are treated like they should be. In some cases even sexual intimidation, physical abuse, withholding of passports or blackmail with declaration at the country’s immigration office is reported. Many governments are closing their eyes for the great number of illegal workers within its borders. Rich countries need the illegal workforce to keep the economy going, but no recognition what so ever is given to this forgotten group, also dubbed as 'undocumented immigrants'. But somehow there is a great need to regularize illegal immigrants to secure the future of its ageing population's which needs have to be taken care of and paid for. Because illegal immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of the economy, any government should welcome young workers and their families, these people may just want a fresh start and they are willing to work for a better future.
In the meantime Clarissa kept her dream alive; finally with great help of her sister and some friends she was able to return to the Philippines and was reunited with her family. After a few months Clarrisa tried to find employment in a hotel in Macau, she spent all her savings on mediation but was scammed by some kind of an illegal recruiter. Despite her husband’s back-breaking work as day-laborer in a rice field and his continuously efforts trying to make ends meet with the family owned carabao, and the small income from a Sari-Sari store, her household is still in need. Last summer I visited her once more in the Philippines, she told me she wanted to go back to the Netherlands or any other country in the world, even if that means getting, discriminated, harassed, abused, making more sacrifices and to keep on working as an illegal alien. Clarissa revealed to me that she has always felt like an outlaw, however, for me, she remains a true hero, and when I look around me today, It is not hard to see there are a lot more Clarissa’s.
The story of Clarissa is based on real facts; the name is changed on her request.