Malaysia, S’pore, Brunei representatives meet in Sibu.
Twenty-two representatives from Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei involved in migrant ministries met in Sarawak recently to discuss issues relating to migrants.
The 4th annual Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants (EMI) conference was held on April 25-26 in Sibu.
The participants came from Brunei apostolic vicariate; Singapore archdiocese; Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu archdioceses; and Keningau, Melaka-Johor, Penang, Sandakan and Sibu dioceses.
During the conference, participants learnt about the varied challenges migrants face in different countries.
East Malaysia, for example, receives thousands of migrants from neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines, who cross the border illegally in search of work. The Church in Sarawak runs a kindergarten for migrant children as they are not eligible to join mainstream schools.
In Peninsular Malaysia, there are more than 140,000 Myanmar refugees who are stranded because the government has not signed the UN Refugee Convention. Kuala Lumpur archdiocese runs a daily feeding programme to help feed migrants, participants were told.
In Brunei, migrants make up 70 percent of the entire workforce, yet there are very few legal resources available to them. They are also not allowed to congregate, participants learnt. The Church here, however, provides a safe venue for migrants to meet with one another.
Representatives from Singapore told the gathering that there are about 10,000 foreign wives in Singapore who have very few rights if they have not acquired permanent residency or Singapore citizenship. The Singapore archdiocese provides pro bono legal services to them and all deserving migrants, participants learnt.
During the meeting, EMI, which comes under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, said it plans to continue conscientising clergy and laity through formation programmes in the coming year.
The organisation also plans to encourage local parishes to start their own migrant ministries.
EMI will also plan meetings to formulate a statement on human trafficking in the middle of the year, as well as a meeting to discuss the repercussion of migration on families in November.
Participants said they have learnt much from the recent conference.
It “has shown some degree of maturity as we reinforce our commitment to reach out to migrants and share our activities and ideas”, said Mr Dominic Lim from Kota Kinabalu archdiocese.
“It has also allowed more cross border collaborations,” he added. “For example, we have been getting assistance from the Singapore archdiocese to help locate a young Sabah boy who has gone missing there.”
Cenacle Sr Susay Valdez from Singapore echoed his views, saying she looks forward to greater “collaboration with the other diocesan migrant ministries and the setting up of more parish migrant ministries in Singapore” as more foreign domestic workers get days off.
The recent conference also included a visit to Indonesian migrant worker community living in the middle of a sprawling palm oil plantation near Sibu.
By Jeremy Khoo