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11 July 2023

New report highlights barriers faced by survivors of trafficking returning to the Philippines

New research conducted by the user-led organisation The Voice of Domestic Workers (VoDW) in collaboration with lecturer Dr Ella Parry-Davies, reveals the dangers faced by survivors of trafficking who return to the Philippines.

The image shows five panel members sitting at the table. A woman in the middle is speaking to the audience.

Returning to the Philippines can tip people into a vicious cycle of re-trafficking, where survivors are caught between the reality of destitution if they stay in the Philippines, and the risks of being exploited or abused if they go abroad. To break this cycle, the UK Home Office needs to offer survivors the legal status and support they need to rebuild their lives in the UK safely and sustainably.

Dr Ella Parry-Davies, research facilitator

The research project, co-designed and facilitated by Dr Ella Parry-Davies, commenced in 2022. It is co-produced with survivors of trafficking and members of The Voice of Domestic Workers, an organisation run by migrant domestic workers advocating for their rights in the UK. Five co-researchers, who are all Filipina domestic workers and trained in research and ethics, conducted 22 online interviews with survivor returnees from the Philippines. The interviewees were approached through co-researchers’ own networks and communities.

Marigold Balquen, co-researcher, speaking at the report launch
Marigold Balquen, co-researcher, speaking at the report launch

Having experienced the same situation, you cannot be biased, you must find out what really happened to these people. This is the hardest thing emotionally... I first came here in 2009, and in 2013 I escaped from my employer. I was working not for one, but for three families. The long hours, the exploitation… I could not bear it anymore, so I decided to leave them. I could no longer bear the difficulties.

Marigold Balquen, co-researcher

The research found that domestic worker survivors of trafficking face significant barriers to accessing support for reintegration in the Philippines. They are also at severe risk of re-trafficking, particularly due to stigmatisation, gender and age discrimination, as well as the perception of domestic work as unskilled.

According to the research findings, 73 per cent of the interviewees had not received any support since their return to the Philippines from the government or any non-governmental organisations. 59 per cent gained some income from employment or a small business (with others relying on borrowed money and family support), but the same number said that they could not meet the cost of basic needs, education or healthcare. 77 per cent of the interviewees had plans to migrate again due to economic and housing insecurity, as well as the costs of education and healthcare. Along with the risks of being re-trafficked, economic and familial pressures made a future in the Philippines impossible for the survivors. Altogether, the report concludes, the Philippines ‘cannot currently be considered a country of origin where effective, appropriate and accessible support is in place for domestic worker survivors of trafficking, or where safe and dignified return with sustainable reintegration is a likelihood’.

Decision-makers in destination countries like the UK need to reflect on our findings carefully when they are thinking about whether survivors of trafficking should remain in the UK or be removed from the country. They need to know that support is not forthcoming in the Philippines and that survivors need to remain in the UK and be supported to rebuild their lives here because it is not safe for them to go back.

Dr Ella Parry-Davies, research facilitator

The report also includes recommendations for supporting domestic worker trafficking survivors, issued primarily for the UK. Based on the findings, the co-researchers urge the UK government to reinstate the pre-2012 Overseas Domestic Worker visa, to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention (189) and to ensure that survivors are in leadership and consultation roles when it comes to anti-trafficking research and policy.

By not protecting and supporting the survivors, the UK government is protecting and tolerating the perpetrators. We are humans, we have our rights, and they are not optional and non-negotiable.

Mimi Jalmasco, co-researcher

Full report Outcomes for survivors of trafficking who return to the Philippines as their country of origin can be viewed and downloaded here.

In this story

Ella Parry-Davies

Lecturer in Theatre, Performance and Critical Theory