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Migrants Matter!

Migrants Matter!

Millions of migrants living outside of their home countries were recognized on International Migrants Day, December 18. British Columbia is home to tens of thousands of migrants, like the more than 32,200 people who came in under the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2022.

On Dec 17, St. Mary the Virgin South Hill Church in east Vancouver held its joint church service with Migrante BC to celebrate International Migrants Day (IMD). Migrante is the grassroots organization that works to protect and promote the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants, immigrants, and refugees in the province of British Columbia. The congregation was joined by Migrante members and Mable Elmore, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Vancouver Kensington.

In his sermon, Rev. Expedito Farinas reminded the congregation of the diversity of migrant communities worldwide,  the challenges in their migration journeys, and the importance of upholding the rights and dignity of all migrants and refugees, regardless of their background or reasons for migration. The prayer for International Migrants Day asked for an end to the wars, poverty, and human rights abuses that drive desperate people to become refugees (and migrants)  in the first place.”        

At the fellowship, MLA Elmore announced, “We are marking International Migrants Day and that is tomorrow, and Migrante BC is also here with us. We will be making history in Canada, making history here in BC. Migrante BC has asked the Provincial Government to proclaim Dec. 18, tomorrow, as International Migrants Day in BC! It is a special and official proclamation to lead the country to inspire, using your words, Father, equity  and upholding the rights of others.”

In the city of Burnaby, its City Council passed a resolution proclaiming Dec 18 as International Migrants Day in Burnaby. It has been one of several BC cities to make this annual Proclamation in the last couple of years.

Photo: BC Provincial Proclamation IMD Dec 18 2023
Photo: Burnaby City Proclamation IMD Dec 18 2023
Photo: City of Barrie IMD Dec 18, 2023

On the evening of Dec. 18, at the presentation ceremony and a small reception organized by Burnaby City Councillor Maita Santiago, City Mayor Mike Hurley presented the City Proclamation  to Maria Fe Infante, chairperson of Migrante BC.  He said that 60% of Burnaby’s residents are immigrants and Burnaby is among the most diverse in the country.  He read part of the City Proclamation which declared that “It is important to ensure we have a welcoming and safe environment for people of all cultural backgrounds and that they are able to access city services regardless of immigration status.”

Councillors Maita Santiago, Richard T. Lee, and Daniel Tetrault were joined by members and friends of Migrante BC, Dignidad Migrante, including Anna Lu from the Burnaby Public Library Board and Ana Maria Bustamente of the Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table.

Photo: Group Photo Burnaby City Hall Chambers, IMD Dec 18 2023
L-R: Bert Monterona, Nelda Navarro, Gina Keck, Anna Lu (Burnaby Public Library Board member), Anna Maria Bustamante (Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table), Councillor Daniel Tetrault, MLA Mable Elmore holding the BC provincial proclamation with Maria Fe Infante (Migrante BC Chair), Tess Dechavez (Migrante BC Board Member), Paul Miramontez (Dignidad Migrante), Burnaby City Mayor Mike Hurley with the City Proclamation, Councillor Maita Santiago, Jaela Villegas, Councillor Richard T. Lee, Mamang Dollaga, Erie Maestro, Leo Alejandria, and Charm.

MLA Mable Elmore then read the BC Provincial Government Proclamation and presented the framed Proclamation to Migrante BC.  This Proclamation makes British Columbia the first and only province in Canada, to date, to declare such a Proclamation for IMD. The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of BC and the Honourable Niki Sharma, Attorney General of BC signed the Proclamation.

The BC Proclamation declared that “migrants across the world often have temporary, uncertain or no immigration status and may be exposed to precarious and vulnerable working and living conditions, with limited access to essential services,” and that “despite the challenges they face, migrants have proven to be a source of prosperity, innovation and sustainable development to their host countries as well as countries of origin and transit, while their knowledge, networks and skills contribute to the development of resilient communities….”

Migrante BC had requested this Proclamation to help mark this global celebration started by the UN General Assembly in December 2000. December 18th is significant because it was on that same day in 1990 that the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Back in 2016, Migrante BC took the unprecedented move to request the City of Vancouver to proclaim Dec 18 as IMD in the City.  Then Mayor Gregor Robertson signed the Proclamation, making it the first city in Canada to do so.  Regardless of who sits as Mayor, the Vancouver City Proclamation has been signed every year. Other cities followed, even during the COVID-19 pandemic: Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, and Surrey.

Inspired by what Migrante BC did, the Pilipinong Migrante Sa Barrie (Filipino Migrants in Barrie) in Ontario requested a  proclamation from their City Council in 2022, making Barrie the first in Ontario to do so. In 2023, Mayor Alex Nutall proclaimed it again in Barrie. (See photos of the Proclamation and members of the PMB below). In 2021, the City of Edmonton issued its first IMD proclamation, the first city in Alberta to do so, on the request of Migrante Alberta.

Photo:Pilipinong Migrante sa Barrie members hold  the City of Barrie IMD proclamation at the City Hall. 
L-R: Mina Anoyan, Chris Sorio, Gina Luzadas, Nash Jaum, and Wilma Delo

The BC Proclamation and the other City Proclamations across Canada are for ALL migrants, regardless of countries of origin,  status, and work, most especially the low-skilled temporary foreign workers, caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, precarious migrant workers, and international students. The Proclamations draw attention not only to their precarious, vulnerable working and living conditions (e.g., like the closed work permits), their access to basic services and social entitlements, but also to the conditions that continue to drive workers from countries in the Global South such as Mexico and the Philippines  to migrate and labour in the cities in the Global North.

Migrante BC recognizes that these IMD proclamations are also Commitments illustrated by the IMC proclamation in Barrie, “to upholding the human rights of all migrants…guaranteeing human rights at our borders and enabling dignified paths for migration, as well as countering racism and xenophobia, which are often directed at migrants.” 

Migrants matter, every day and most especially, on International Migrants Day.  Happy International Migrants Day! ###