How do our Jesuits universities tackle the important issue of migrant workers? How much are we Jesuits involved in improving the human dignity of migrant workers? Fr Ando Isamu SJ found himself reflecting on these questions after participating in an international conference focussed on migration issues earlier this month.
Fr Ando, who heads the Migrant Desk at the Jesuit Social Center in Tokyo, had been at the 2014 International Conference on Asia-Pacific Studies at the National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) in Taiwan, where he had presented on the subject of “Migrants – foreign workers – in Japan”.
The conference had attracted university professors and scholars from 15 countries, mostly in East Asia, enabling rich discussion among Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and religiously indifferent people, all of whom Fr Ando says were united in their interest in migration and socio-political changes in the Asia region. The three main topics of discussion were regional cooperation, China and its neighbours, and migrant workers’ issues in various countries, in line with the conference theme, “Migration and Transformation in the Asia-Pacific”.
To set the context, the conference began with the screening of the 2013 film “Ilo Ilo”, which presents the hard life of a Filipina domestic worker in Singapore. Fr Ando found the psychological changes of the little boy she took care of, from despising her to loving her more than his mother, after a car accident, very moving.
“Reflecting on our role as Jesuits with regard to the issue [of migrant worker rights], I clearly found that our network in JCAP is trying to become an actor – not just an observer – in defending workers from foreign countries who are living and working in our midst; to try positively to change hostile attitudes and even structures harming the human dignity of foreign workers,” said Fr Ando.
The conference was organized by the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies, NSYSU and the University of the Philippines’ Department of Political Science. It was held from November 12 to 16, and followed by a free academic forum on migration and change transformation in East Asia.
By Ando Isamu, SJ