Caritas Internationalis Director of Policy, Martina Liebsch

Credits: Caritas

An objective of “The female face of migration” conference in Senegal is to share experiences. How does this benefit Caritas members?

Martina Liebsch: Outstanding work can inspire other members. In Sri Lanka, Caritas works with potential migrants before they leave, informing them about risks and opportunities and providing them with places they can go to for help once they arrived in their destination. While Caritas Bolivia encourages migrants to save up some money for their return. Sharing can provide inspiration for every member to enrich its work.

Should we be convincing women to stay with their families instead of helping them to leave?

ML: Our objective is to support women so that they can make their own decisions. We need to provide information about risks and opportunities, and then they can decide. We want people to benefit from migration. We should also work towards creating opportunities for people to stay at home. From my experience, many women would prefer to stay if that was an option.

What motivates your work on migrant rights?

ML: I have great admiration for migrant workers. Most migrants are very courageous people, always with this strong will to change their lives and provide for their children. But then unfortunately, they often fail because the circumstances don’t allow them to succeed. I have seen a lot of suffering of migrants. It is something we cannot tolerate and we can change. The worst thing I have seen was a detention centre for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Women could be held there up to eight months simply for complaining about their working conditions. The underground detention centre had no sunlight. Caritas Lebanon provided support, helping people to get documents or with extra food during festivities. That is a source of hope for them.

What can people do to get involved?

ML: Migrants live among us. Think of nannies, flower sellers or care givers. So the first thing would be to treat them with respect, as equals. Employers should provide migrants with decent conditions. Another way is to volunteer in one of the many organisations dealing with migrants’ concerns. Ultimately we all have to contribute to tackle the root causes of migration, such as poverty, and address the lack of opportunities for migration to become an informed, legal and safe option

What do you think about the current debates about integration?

ML: It is a good thing to talk about this, even possibly have a tough discussion. It will help us go forward. The big risk though is this debate is taken over by extremist movements. In the context of globalisation, with the fear of terrorism, too many people tend to view migrants as a threat.

What will be the policy asks coming out of the Senegal conference?

ML: Women migrants fill an important gap in ageing societies. We have a Convention on Migrant workers rights, which only the 41 countries who ratified it have to apply. Moreover there are only 19 countries where regulations for domestic work exist. In many places, it is not recognised as salaried work. Things like decent conditions, a limit on working hours, a weekly free day, the option to complain do not exist in a lot of countries. Many women suffer from insecure situations, bad treatment or trafficking and lack even basic protection. Construction, where most workers are men, is at least regulated, salaried work.

We will encourage our members to examine existing policies in their countries and look at the actual impact they have on migrants. India stops women under 30 emigrating to be domestic workers or care-givers to protect them from exploitation. By keeping them from leaving legally, some are missing out on opportunities and others will work illegally which puts them in an even more vulnerable situation. It is not only about creating new policies, but about seeing whether they are actually effective.