Uprooted | Inquirer Opinion
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Uprooted

The 1988 report of the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues used “Uprooted” to describe individuals and communities displaced from their original areas of settlement. With Nippon Foundation support, Prince Hassan bin Talal, a member of the commission, convened last month the 5th West Asia North Africa (WANA) Forum to revisit the issue.

In the intervening 25 years, the problem has taken on added dimensions, becoming more intractable with the increasing number of the Uprooted. For WANA, involuntary, conflict-induced displacement remains the most urgent issue. The flood of refugees from the fighting in Syria is approaching the two-million mark, as the flow continues at the rate of 8,000 per day, with no end of the conflict in sight.

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Amman was an appropriate venue for the discussion. About 2,000 refugees cross into Jordan each day, where their number has reached half a million. With a population of about 6.5 million, Jordan already hosts over two million Palestinians, victims of an earlier period of displacement.

While acknowledging the issue posed by an estimated 15 million war refugees, the Forum recognized the broader context in which uprooting now takes place. The 2012 Global Hearing on Refugees and Migration placed the number of the Uprooted at 215 million.

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This figure included migrants looking for a better life in another country, as well as the internally displaced, voluntarily or forcibly relocated within the country because of insurgency, disasters, long-term environmental and economic pressures, and, ironically, by development projects.

In his message to the Forum, Peter Sutherland, UN special representative on migration and development, recalled the lament of the Greek playwright Euripedes that directly applied to refugees fleeing their country: “There is no sorrow above the loss of a native land.”

Hannah Arendt (“Origins of Totalitarianism”) noted that refugees lose “their right to have rights” because “they no longer belong to any community whatsoever.” Cast beyond the protection of their own government, these refugees must depend on the sufferance and kindness of foreigners.

Arendt’s assessment must resonate with undocumented overseas Filipino workers in WANA. In Saudi Arabia alone, the sword of a deadline—to leave, legalize their status, or go to jail—hangs over the heads of almost a third of some one million OFWs. Victims of abusive employers need their oppressors’ release to get an exit permit. An undetermined number in the region have suffered sexual exploitation, not by strangers, but by Filipino officials charged with their welfare.

Despite the risks, legal or illegal migration will continue. A recent Gallup survey reported that 700 million adults wanted to move permanently to another country. Globalization and the flat world notwithstanding, immigration restrictions will bar the majority from realizing this aspiration. But, with urbanization, the global number of the internally uprooted will grow.

The New York Times recently reported on China’s plan to maintain its growth momentum by moving 250 million rural residents to new cities and towns in the next 12 years. The strategy: urbanize to modernize. By 2025, some 900 million people, or 70 percent of China’s population, will be living in cities.

Apart from the compensation and pension benefits for the farmers losing their land, infrastructure development will boost domestic demand and revitalize the economy. But critics worry that, at $600 billion/year, this social engineering program will be too costly, even for China, and that uprooted farmers will not be able to sustain themselves in the cities. But China has an urban development plan.

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Our urban population grows without planning, without, therefore, commensurate growth in housing, health and educational facilities, and employment opportunities for the Uprooted. We exemplify the global trend in the uprooting process: refugees from poverty, disasters and insurgency bloating urban centers, and both they and the cities coping as best they can.

WANA Forum 5 appealed for better coordination between local and national government authorities to manage the internal displacement of their citizens. But not the kind of coordination that Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson disclosed and deplored—officials allowing informal settlements to block waterways and resisting their relocation or delaying the move until after elections, hoping to harvest captive votes.

This delay helped Typhoon “Emong” cause gridlock in Manila on a monumental scale, with vehicles immobile as statues. The resulting pain inflicted on commuters and the productivity loss defy calculation. More important, such delays place in mortal peril the people in these settlements.

We are, perhaps, learning. Provincial governments are now planning for the relocation of communities in areas identified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as “geologically hazardous” and prone to landslides and flooding. But resettlement programs also require private-sector support. To form viable communities, the Uprooted need livelihood.

The continuing trek from rural areas to urban centers should no longer surprise us. We are part of what Ian Johnson described in China as “Leaving the Land. The Great Uprooting.”

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: Business Matters, Edilberto C. de Jesus, housing, Humanitarian issues, migration, opinion, Refugees, Rural, Urban, WANA Forum
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