Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bleak Christmas for 3 OFW dads in Canada

For three Filipino fathers in Canada, the holiday season has been bleak. 

The three migrant workers have been struggling to find ways to remain legally in that country and to continue earning for their families in the face of impending deportation. 

Antonio Laroya, Arnisito Gaviola, and Ermie Zotomayor were arrested in June 2010 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Manitoba, Canada for not having work permits, a violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada.

Migrants’ rights group Migrante-Canada said that while the three workers, dubbed the “Three Amigos," were subsequently released, all their identification papers — including their passports — had been confiscated.

After their arrest, the three men have also been banned from working, as they waited for the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to decide whether or not they would be allowed to stay or be sent home.

The three workers first came to Canada in 2007 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). According to Migrante, recruiters charged each of them $3,000 to secure a minimum-wage job in a gas station in High Prairie, Alberta. 

After 18 months, however, they were given the pink slip, forcing them to transfer to a restaurant in Peace River, also in Alberta. To keep costs down, they lived together in a mobile home.

According to Migrante, the restaurant owner was however unable to sponsor the three men under Alberta’s Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP), so they were compelled to renew their search for new jobs.

When a friend found a job at another gas station in Thompson, Manitoba, the three packed their belongings and headed there, hoping to find new jobs and secure new work permits. 

The Thomson gas station owner made the three men work at once, and promised that their work permits would soon follow. Three months after, however, the permits had yet to be obtained. It was then, on June 24, 2010, that the three were arrested by the RCMP.

Migrante said the three had earlier tried to seek legal advice in Thompson, but the Legal Aid Manitoba turned them down as they were not eligible for legal aid.

They also paid an immigration consultant $4,500 to process their permits — which were subsequently denied because of their arrest and pending hearing.

No recourse for migrant workers

According to Migrante, some 280,000 foreign workers in Canada face the same plight as the three workers: they do not have the option to become permanent residents of the world’s second largest country.

“Under the present immigration system, the three men have no other recourse but to appeal to Immigration Minister (Jason) Kenney and hope that they will be allowed to stay, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds," Migrante explained.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Matas, who represents the three workers in court, has advised them to apply for “Restoration of Status" and “Temporary Residence" permits that would allow them to work in Canada.

Matas’ investigation of organ harvesting crimes against Falun Gong practitioners in China gained him a nomination for the Nobel in 2010. 

Migrante has claimed that the three Filipino workers received insufficient assistance that from the Philippine Embassy in Ontario.

“We have witnessed time and again that for any assistance to be provided, the question most often asked by our officials is ‘Have these workers paid their OWWA fees?’ instead of ‘How can we help?’" the group said.

“Is it not enough that our kababayan are Filipino citizens and that the Philippine government, through the Embassy, is mandated to help them?" it added.

GMANews.TV tried to reach the Philippine Embassy, but could not be reached for comments as of posting time.

Appeal to Canada’s Immigration Minister

In the meantime, the Three Amigos are awaiting their hearing, which was first scheduled for December 23 but moved to December 30, the Winnipeg Free Press reported. 

The report noted that Manitoba provincial Liberal leader Jon Gerrard has personally appealed to Minister Kenney to allow the three workers to stay and work in that Canadian province.

Meanwhile, an online petition was set up urging to Kenney to allow the three to stay in Canada. 

Migrante said it will continue to push for reforms to the TFWP, including provisions allowing migrant workers the option to become permanent residents of Canada.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates that there were over 630,000 Filipinos in Canada in December 2009. Of that figure, over 550,000 are permanent residents, while the rest work in temporary jobs.

Last year, some 17,000 newly hired Filipino workers were deployed to Canada, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), making it count among the top 10 destination countries for Filipino OFWs.

Remittances sent home by Filipinos in Canada in 2009, amounting to some US$1.9 billion, ranked second, the POEA also reported. — DM/KBK, GMANews.TV

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