Since it was publicly identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than two million people worldwide. The global pandemic has had far-reaching effects in almost every area of our lives, and as many have said, has exacerbated previously existing issues of inequality around the globe.
In the Asia Pacific region, migrant workers—who are already marginalized and precariously employed—and victims of human trafficking are no exception, says Aaron Ceradoy, general manager of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM).
APMM has been carrying out a research project since 2020 that focuses on victims of human trafficking in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. APMM’s 2020 research project was the recipient of $10,000 of funding from the department of Global Relations, a ministry of General Synod, raised through Resources for Mission’s Giving with Grace campaign.
In the Asia Pacific region, Ceradoy says, trafficking most often occurs as forced or coerced labour. Workers in the service sector, particularly domestic workers and agricultural workers, are especially vulnerable, he says.
The research project is focused on trafficking patterns in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and aims to compile a picture of how trafficking happens in those areas and what victims may experience. The other area of research covered by the project is the situation of undocumented migrants in Sabah, Malaysia, many of whom are also victims of trafficking.
Part of the aim of the research project is to discover the typical modus operandi of traffickers, Ceradoy says. “We’re hoping that through [this] kind of research … we could report to relevant authorities that these kinds of things happen, that this is how they recruit people and this is how they transport people. Hopefully it can be a preventative measure in a way, to prevent the rise of victimization.”
APMM collected its research by interviewing victims of human trafficking, officials of relevant government agencies and non-governmental organizations. It also held small focus-group discussions online and face to face, according to an interim report supplied in November 2020.
The research also aims to discover the effect of the pandemic on trafficking victims, and offered resources for migrants and human trafficking victims impacted by the pandemic, including a series of webinars organized by APMM, consultations with migrants and faithbased organizations, and advocacy videos shared online.
Unemployment due to the pandemic has left many migrant workers displaced or stranded, Ceradoy says. As well as a loss of livelihood, unemployment can affect migrants’ visa or immigration status, and workers who are not able to return to their home countries may find themselves falling through the cracks of services offered to citizens. In Hong Kong, where Ceradoy lives, he notes that migrants employed as domestic workers were excluded from the economic aid offered by the government to Hong Kong nationals. The COVID-19 pandemic “has certainly exacerbated migrating peoples’ vulnerabilities to being violated, abused, exploited,” says Andrea Mann, director of Global Relations for the Anglican Church of Canada. At the same time, with lockdown orders keeping their employers at home, their workloads have increased.
Many migrant workers are not recognized as front-line workers, though they risk exposure to COVID-19, Ceradoy says. “The challenge [is] making migrants visible,” he adds.
APMM’s project is in keeping with General Synod’s commitment to work against human trafficking and modern slavery, says Andrea Mann, director of Global Relations.
Resolution A204, passed at General Synod in 2019, states that General Synod will “condemn the ongoing practices of human trafficking and modern day slavery and commit to working for their elimination in Canada and globally,” and “urge the Anglican Church of Canada to develop, promote and disseminate liturgical, theological and educational materials related to combatting human trafficking, slavery and enforced migration.”
“Within that framework, I look for Anglican and ecumenical faith-based organizations globally that are working on these issues in their specific global regions,” says Mann.
General Synod has been a “solidarity partner” of APMM for three or four years, Mann says, and has been a funding partner since 2020.
APMM was originally founded as the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos but expanded its mandate in 2002 to include the many nationalities of migrants in the Asia Pacific area, says Ceradoy, who has worked with APMM since 2002. The main thrust of the organization’s work is “movement building,” he says.
“We believe in that addressing the situation of migrants—whether it’s immediate or the long-term issues of forced migration and [exploitative migration]—we believe that the key relies on empowering the grassroots migrants themselves…. So we do a lot of advocacy. But we also do research, education, capacity-building with migrant organizations. We also do a lot of enhancing the organizing capacity of migrants, of building networks of migrants, alliances and social advocacy,” Ceradoy says, adding that social advocacy would include efforts to create a more positive view of migrants in other sectors of the public. “[We want to] counter the negative picture of migrants as free-loaders or [of] migrants as … only good for their work.”
At the time this article was being written, APMM was compiling its final report for the project. Ceradoy says they plan to continue with other research projects in 2021, concerning the situation of migrants who were forced to return to their home countries during the pandemic, and checking in with their partner organizations to see how things have changed in the year since the pandemic began.
A challenge for APMM is answering the immediate needs of migrants and trafficking survivors while providing research and advocacy, Ceradoy says. “Our main strategy of organizing takes time … so what we are trying to do now is actually combine the two—that while we still believe that the key is in the empowerment of migrants, that empowerment should also be able to deliver services to their fellow migrants who are in immediate crisis situations.”
Mann says APMM’S research work is “important work for all of us to be aware of.” As part of a global Anglican Communion, it “behooves us to know about the experiences of migrant workers from the South Pacific, the Asia Pacific region as they make their way to us and other destinations.”
The COVID-19 pandemic “has certainly exacerbated migrating peoples’ vulnerabilities to being violated, abused, exploited,” says Mann. “And so, the more of us that can be working together on these very serious concerns, [the better].” In 2021, she says, General Synod and Global Relations “will continue to raise awareness about the situation and efforts and struggles of migrant workers in not only the Asia Pacific region but … in Canada and elsewhere in the communion. This will continue to be an ongoing effort for us.”