Tinig Migrante by E. Maestro
The wildfire that continues to blaze in Fort McMurray, Northern Alberta drove the massive evacuation of 88,000 residents and workers from their homes and work sites to the safety of evacuation centres or homes of friends and families in nearby towns or outside of the city. Thousands of people lost their homes and possessions in the blaze that consumed 200, 000 hectares. There were those who had to immediately leave for safety with what they had on their backs and whatever money they had in their wallets and bags. Lives were more important, as it should be, than homes, furniture, and property.
In the exodus to safety from what some described as hell are Filipino temporary workers staying in evacuation centres or some other temporary accommodations. Like many ordinary people in Alberta who continue to help out their neighbours, Migrante Alberta members are also doing what they can to help out their kababayan, particularly the temporary foreign workers (TFWs). Pinoy TFWs may not have the established network of friends and families to help out with the accommodation crisis; they are also burdened with what to do about work.
With the threat of death from a blazing fire taking a side step (but not forgotten), the reality of work, or no work, takes centre stage for our TFW kababayan.
Because the work permits of temporary foreign workers are tied to their employers. The displacement, the loss of work, the closure of work sites, while not their employers’ fault, is a major problem for TFWs. Simply because their work permits may no longer be valid if their employers no longer have any work to offer them. TFWs, because they are tied to their employers, are not allowed to work, until they find another employer willing to go through the bureaucratic process to hire them. With warnings that the fire could burn for months, depending on the weather, and with orders that Fort McMurray is still too dangerous to enter, the prospect of work has also gone up in smoke. Removal or deportation from Canada because there is no work, and therefore no work permits, is a reality that TFWs have to deal with.
Documents like passports, copies of work permits, even applications for permanent residency for those with pending applications, have gone up in smoke.
Migrante BC calls on the Philippine government, through the Consulate General and its staff, to extend help to its citizens, its constituents, with issuance of new replacement passports, with contacting relatives in the Philippines, drawing up of affidavits, etc.
Migrante BC and other migrant advocates call on the Canadian government that one of the concrete measures it can provide for temporary workers is to take the humanitarian and compassionate approach — i.e., give these workers open work permits so that they can find work when life returns to some sort of normalcy. Refugees and Citizenship Canada was quoted in the media declaring that they are closely monitoring the situation in Fort McMurray and “assessing whether and when special measures will be necessary to address the needs of Canadian citizens, permanent residents and temporary residents in the region.”
If you know anyone in Fort McMurray or you yourself are a Filipino TFW from Fort McMurray, know that you can contact Migrante Alberta using their email address firstname.lastname@example.org and their phone number 1- (888) 366-0194 for information.
The Filipino Workers Network (FWN) has set up an online fundraising for temporary foreign workers from Fort McMurray affected by the wildfire in www.fundrazr.com. Migrante Alberta, with other community partners, has organized emergency meetings with affected TFWs to get updates on emergency financial assistance like the preloaded debit cards from the provincial government of Alberta, to find solutions, to discuss issues of status and how to collectively work together to help each other.
Thank you to the more than 500 firefighters on the ground, other city departments, community groups, volunteers, and ordinary men and women who continue to battle the wildfire and who continue to look out for each other.