Let's especially celebrate migrants this year

By Park Mi Hyung   December 17, 2020 | 07:03 pm PT
I have at least one million air miles under my belt, but my migration journey to Vietnam was definitely memorable.
Park Mi Hyung

Park Mi Hyung

In normal times, there would be hourly flights between South Korea and Vietnam. In the ‘new normal’ times, it took several months of endless exchanges and four canceled flights to finally board me on a repatriation plane from Seoul to Hanoi.

I had to wear the full head-to-toe protection suit with gloves, goggles and a mask all the way from Incheon Airport to the Hanoi hotel where I was to be quarantined for 14 days. Behind the blue suit, I could barely tell myself apart from the Vietnamese returnees who were also lucky to secure seats. Looking through the goggles, I realized I was just another migrant trying to get to my destination, and like mine, their stories must be as varied and unique as each of the 272 million migrants living new lives and building new communities in every corner of the globe.

Many of my fellow travelers were migrant workers who lost their income and thus were returning home. There must have been excitement of reuniting with loved ones but also anxieties about the uncertain future and lost remittances that their families counted on.

Remittances are a lifeline for many families in Vietnam. In 2019, the country received nearly $17 billion, placing it among the top 10 remittance receiving countries globally. This number is projected to drop to 17 percent in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Two of 219 Vietnamese workers repatriated from Equatorial Guinea to Hanoi on July 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Two of 219 Vietnamese workers repatriated from Equatorial Guinea to Hanoi on July 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Still we were the lucky ones. Although the government of Vietnam has done a remarkable job facilitating return of overseas Vietnamese, there are still many Vietnamese migrants stranded in different parts of the world. Globally there were over 2.7 million stranded migrants of concerns.

There is no doubt that Vietnam has demonstrated the world’s most successful response to the Covid-19. Among other success factors, one of the defining actions of the government was to immediately close the international borders and continue its strict restrictions on inbound international travels.

Vietnam was not alone. Globally international travel has been dramatically reduced as many countries closed borders, restrict entry or change visa and entry requirements to slow down the spread of the virus.

Looking back, 2020, a year marked with unprecedented period of immobility, ironically taught us more about our inalienable right for free movements and migration, a right we have had to compromise for the safety of our communities.

The year showed that human mobility is essential to our wellbeing. It reminded us that the freedom to move is fundamental to who we are as human beings. The inability to move upended people’s lives. Many people’s hopes and plans had to be put on hold because they could not move. We could not be with our loved ones and share our humanity because we could not move.

It revealed that we were heavily dependent on migrants. Turns out migrants are our essential workers. In my home country, migrants including those from Vietnam made our daily necessities, built the houses we live in and farmed and delivered our food. Migrants also took care of us when we got ill even when we were infected with Covid-19 and cared for our children and our elderly family members.

But it also revealed that migrants were overlooked, neglected and even made scapegoats and were the firsts to be let go, forced reduced work and wages. For just being a migrant, they were stigmatized, attacked, abused and discriminated. They were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic with little care or support.

The year uncovered that we were so dependent on each other. But this connection was also very fragile.

Four months into my journey in Vietnam, I am very happy to be here. But I also cannot wait to see my family, my friends and my dog back home. This will require us to continue our fight against the pandemic but in a more inclusive, united and mature manner.

With news of vaccines emerging, I hope to end the year with hope. The hope to be able to exercise my full right and freedom as a human being, especially my freedom to move. But of course, in a safe, orderly and regular manner.

New Year and Tet are about to come, and I sincerely wish a closer and kinder year for everyone, including all the migrants around us and those abroad.

*The United Nations’ International Migrants Day, annually held on December 18, is a day to remember migrants’ contributions to our society and reiterate the need to respect the rights and dignity of all migrants. On this day, we take a moment to appreciate all the migrants around the world, and the stories that they get to tell.

Park Mi Hyung is the chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (IOM) – U.N. Migration Agency in Vietnam.

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