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ILO, EU, Stella Maris partner to protect Filipino migrant fishers

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The ILO, with support from the European Union, and Stella Maris join forces to capture experiences of return migrant fishers and develop a comprehensive pre-departure orientation in the Philippines to combat abuses, forced labour and human trafficking.

Manila, Philippines – When they return home, migrant fishers routinely share experiences about how they got jobs and their time spent on commercial fishing vessels at sea. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and Stella Maris Philippines have therefore spearheaded efforts to capture this knowledge and use it to develop a comprehensive pre-departure orientation and information package to address abuses, forced labour and human trafficking in the industry.

Annually, an average of 4,335 Filipinos leave the country to commercially fish aboard foreign flag vessels.

According to recent figures from the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), migrant fishers represent just two per cent of all sea-based workers who left the country in 2021.

However, early in 2023 the DMW investigated claims of forced labour and human trafficking of migrant fishers, highlighting the challenges that they face.

“While the number of migrant fishers may only be small compared to half a million Filipino seafarers deployed, they are particularly prone to abuses. It is crucial to promote fair recruitment and protect their rights to decent work, as well as end unacceptable abuses, human trafficking and forced labour,” said Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines.

Ahead of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July, the ILO through the European Union-funded Ship to Shore Rights Southeast Asia Programme and the Stella Maris Philippines in collaboration with local stakeholders, located and convened return migrant fishers for focus group discussions. The first was held on 25 July in Manila, and the second will be conducted on 8 August in Cebu City.

“The information package we are putting together will help fishers gain deeper understanding of their rights and the abuses they may face, such as forced labour and human trafficking, and how they affect them and their families. As fishers learn about their rights, the laws, and the policies that safeguard them, they will be equipped to know what to do and with whom to communicate in times of crisis,” said Fr. John Mission, National Director of Stella Maris Philippines.

As the oldest member of the group of migrant fishers in Manila with 20 years of fishing experience, Egmedio Patenio said, “I became interested in joining this event, first, because I want to share my experiences in the fishing vessel especially with the prospective fishers. I also want to know what organizations such as the ILO and Stella Maris, can do to help solve problems we commonly encounter like sleeping arrangements and food in the vessels, maltreatment and abuse by other nationalities. I believe that my long years of experience being a migrant fisher will greatly help in contributing ideas to the young migrant fishers now and to the next generation.”

John Dalojo, another participant, echoed this sentiment and added, “And to know what else can be done for the good of migrant fishers.”

The vital information shared by these fishers will be used in a comprehensive pre-departure orientation and information package to help orient prospective migrant fishers, as part of the government-mandated pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS).

“Fisher-specific PDOS like this could have been given before we boarded,” remarked Marvin Telempros, another migrant fisher who participated in the dialogue. “We could have beein informed what to do and our rights in case of problems onboard or in ports. When we are already working abroad, it will be an advantage to understand the dos and don’ts.”

As the implementing partner of this EU-funded initiative in the Philippines, the Fair Training Center, a non-profit organization engaged by ILO, is facilitating the module development process based on these consultative workshops. The total funding support from the EU for seven target countries in South East Asia (the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand) is EUR 10 Million.

About Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia programme

Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia (S2SR SEA) is a multi-country, multi-annual initiative of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), implemented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Its overriding objective is to promote regular and safe labour migration and decent work for all migrant workers in the fishing and seafood processing sectors in South East Asia.

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