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December 18 International Migrants Day

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

On the 4th of December 2000, the UN General Assembly declared December 18 as International Migrants Day. The initiative to establish this International Day started in 1997, when Filipino and other Asian migrant organizations began to commemorate it as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. The 18th of December was chosen as it was the date when the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Over the century, the phenomenon of migration has emerged as one of the characteristics of the international order as millions of migrants cross national boundaries to settle permanently in other countries and/or work in diverse roles as migrant workers. International Migrants Day calls on all UN member states, organizations, institutions and peoples worldwide to “disseminate information on human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, sharing experiences, and undertaking action to ensure the protection of migrants”.

Many advanced industrial countries such as Canada, the USA, and Western European nations, have received migrants or immigrants, resulting increasingly in the growth of multicultural societies. The demographic profile of such immigrant-receiving countries has therefore shifted from a predominantly Caucasian majority (and in some areas an Indigenous peoples’ minority) to the presence of significant ethnic minorities from the Asia Pacific, Latin American, Caribbean and African regions.

Yet, despite their contributions to economic, social, and cultural development of their receiving countries, migrants have continued to face problems and challenges in being accepted and respected as equal citizens or permanent residents, including cultural, social and economic discrimination, prejudices, xenophobia and racism. Hence, as seen in countries like Canada with a significant migrant population, laws, policies, and programs have been implemented to promote multiculturalism, intercultural understanding, multicultural education and anti-racist education.

Government agencies, educational institutions and many NGOs and CSOs have encouraged their citizens and permanent residents to welcome migrants from diverse ethnic, cultural and national origins, and heritage and live together with mutual respect, understanding, compassion, and justice.

In addition, due to the enhanced “globalization” of the international economic system, there has also been an exponential flow of migrant workers worldwide. As Mr. Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Office (ILO) emphasized on the first UN International Migrants Day, "migrant workers provide valuable services with their labour and furnish an often invisible subsidy to the national economies that receive them. They work in factories, produce food, provide domestic service, staff hospitals and contribute to a wide range of basic needs often for low wages and with little recognition of the value of their contribution… Despite the hardships of migrant life and work, the treatment of migrant workers is often woefully inconsistent with what they deserve as workers and human beings…migrants are all too often relegated to the dirty, difficult, and dangerous jobs that go begging in wealthier economies and where discrimination and ill treatment are rife”.

The system of globalized migrant work has also been exploited by human traffickers and unscrupulous employers leading to abuse and violence. Migrant workers are regarded as the “unsung heroes” of their home countries who send back to their families remittances that contribute to local and national economic growth which often exceeds annual foreign aid or foreign exchange sources.

The Philippines has become one of the largest senders of migrant workers (known as OFWs or overseas foreign workers), numbering over 2 million in 2020 and sending home some $30 billion in remittances in 2019. As Marco Luciano, Director of Migrante Canada, Noreen Berkes, and Caridad Bernardino of LINGAP-Canada elaborated in their statements during the International Human Rights Day Commemoration, Canada and Canadians need to promote the human rights of migrants and migrant workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected migrant workers, with hundreds of thousands becoming jobless due to the lockdowns and recession of national economies and the global economic order. In industrialized countries, migrants and migrant workers often work in frontline healthcare roles or in other essential services (e.g., farms, food processing, transport, construction, factories, retail, etc.) where they are highly vulnerable to the pandemic. As some members of migrant communities are also located in the poorer sectors of their societies, they have been disproportionately affected, together with other lower-income communities, by the COVID-19 disease.

Despite the hardships, obstacles, and challenges facing migrants when they arrive in a new country, we are reminded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that migrants have shown the capacity, resilience, and responsibility to adapt to their new society. However, as IOM also noted, “communities cannot adapt alone. They need support from governments and organizations such as the IOM, to ensure adequate provision of public services, orientation and language support, human capital investment, and broader strengthening of community infrastructure”.

As some of the quotations show, many citizens, elders, numerous cultures, faith, religious or spirituality traditions uphold and embody values, virtues, and ethical principles that inspire and guide humanity to welcome, respect, and collaborate with all migrants and migrant workers to promote the well-being and rights of all.

Quotations about Migration and Migrants

At the center of the Universe

Dwells the Great Spirit.

And that center is

Really everywhere.

It is within each of us.

Black Elk

The man (human being) who sees me in everything and everything within me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him (/her)... He (/she) who is rooted in oneness realizes that I am in every being; wherever he (she) goes, he (she) remains in me. Anonymous, The Bhagavad Gita, Stephen Mitchell

In God, there is no such thing as care for our own apart from concern for the other, because in God there is no such thing as the other. Rabbi Ed Feinstein

Seeing our fundamental interconnectedness with all beings, we recognise the refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers now streaming into Europe as people like ourselves, desperately seeking relief from suffering and longing for happiness. Regardless of their ethnicity or religion, may they find open borders and a refuge in Europe.

May all beings find happiness and the causes of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

40th Annual General Meeting of the European Buddhist Union in Berlin

We the people of this continent are not afraid of foreigners because many of us were once foreigners. Pope Francis

The men who stayed in their own city (Medina) and embraced Islam before them loved those who have sought refuge with them. They do not covet what they are given but rather prefer [their brothers and sisters] above themselves although they are in need. Those who preserve themselves from their own greed shall surely prosper. Quran, (59:9)

“Accept all humans as your equals, and let them be your only sect” (Japji 28). Guru Nanak

Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean. Baha’ul’lah

My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. Bishop Desmond Tutu

History in its broadest aspect is a reward of man’s migrations from one environment to another. Ellsworth Huntington

Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety, and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family. Ban Ki Moon

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists. Franklin D. Roosevelt

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now. Martin Luther King Jr

People come here penniless but not cultureless. They bring us gifts. We can synthesize the best of our traditions with the best of theirs. We can teach and learn from each other to produce a better AmericaMary Pipher

Let him who has not a single speck of migration to blot his family escutcheon cast the first stone…if you didn’t migrate then your father did, and if your father didn’t need to move from place to place, then it was only because your grandfather before him had no choice but to go, put his old life behind him in search of the bread that his own land denied him…Jose Saramago

More than ever, I feel that the human race is one. There are differences of colour, language, culture and opportunities, but peoples’s feelings and reactions are alike. People flee wars to escape death, they migrate to improve their fortunes, they build new lives in foreign lands, they adapt to extreme hadship…Sebastiao Salgado

I think massive migration is inevitable. As sea levels rise, as climate change happens, as fertile fields become arid, as wars are fought, people are going to move. They always have. Mohsin Hamid

The worst example of rural poverty is that of migrant farm workers. They have no permanent jobs, so they have no equity in the places where the work. They’re not shareholders, let alone entrepreneurs. They’re not entrepreneurs, they’re not market gardeners, they’re just temporary – uprooted, isolated, easily exploitable people.Wendell Berry

With refugee and migrant women playing a pivotal role around the world to sustain communities and economies, the global commitments must include achieving gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and their human rights as underlying principles, address the unique needs of women and girls, include their voices, and be accountable to them. UN Women

There are an estimated 258 million migrants around the world, and many of us are migrating to countries that previously colonized and imperialized us. We have a human right to move, and governments should serve that right, not limit it. The unprecedented movement of people ... is, in reality, a natural progression of history. Yes, we are here because we believe in the promise of the American Dream - the search for a better life, the challenge of dreaming big. But we are also here because you were there - the cost of American imperialism and globalization, the impact of economic policies and political decisions. Jose Antonio Vargas, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

Migrants are the creators of some of the biggest and most liquid capital flows anywhere. They send back some $600 billion in remittances every year, 6 which amounts to three times more than the direct gains from abolishing all trade barriers, four times more than all foreign aid, and 100 times the amount of all debt relief. Suketu Mehta, This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, and men who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. Pope Francis

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