Fr Charlie Oasan
“For I was hungry you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome … In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-40).
Migrants to Singapore are what we call the “stranger” in our land. We meet them in MRT and bus stations, in our working places, in our homes and at the grocery store. We see them sitting in public places and parks under the burning sun.
The challenges and struggles that low income migrants in Singapore face are multifaceted and well ranging.
Migrant workers are often at the mercy of their employers and are vulnerable to harassment and abuse. While there are some migrants who lead blissful lives with their spouses, there are those who face a range of problems from breakdown in marital or family relationships, violence and abuse, finances and emotional and mental issues.
For us, being aware of the challenges that low income migrants face, I would say that they are people undeniably in need of our help and concern.
Krystale (not her real name), a transnational spouse or a migrant wife, was abused by her Singaporean husband but continued to stay because she felt trapped and needed him to support her long term visit pass (LTVP) to continue staying in Singapore to care for their son, a Singaporean by birth.
She was afraid to threaten any action against her husband for fear that he may cancel her LTVP, forcing her to return home and be separated from her son.
With intervention from the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), who journeyed with Krystale and provided her with advice, support and pathways to a better future, she is able to remain in Singapore today. In addition, she is also now financially independent and is able to support her own needs and that of her son. The whole experience allowed her to grow in faith, as she found herself praying and relying on God for His providence.
Certainly, Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs), like transnational migrants, also face challenges such as contract and salary disputes, physical, mental and emotional abuse by their employers, loneliness and homesickness.
For FDWs, ACMI provides skills development courses and formation workshops. FDWs are equipped with language, vocational and caregiving skills in hope of instilling confidence and inspiring them to look forward to a better future for their families back home.
Challenges faced by the low waged migrant workers are different. The problems commonly faced by them are disputes on claims on accidents at worksites, work injuries, delayed salary payment and emotional and psychological stress at work. ACMI has provided avenues to foster interaction, integration and understanding between this group and local communities. This is done through Bread Basket, a community outreach programme with different communities and dormitories in Singapore.
Saint Pope John Paul II in his message for the 86th World Migration Day, challenged all Christians when he said, “how can the baptised claim to welcome Christ if they close the door to the foreigner who comes knocking?
As a Christian community, how do we respond to this present social need? How do we integrate the needs of migrant workers into our parish pastoral priorities?
Some people would say it is not our problem. Let others solve it. They will give us more trouble. We did not ask them to come anyway.
God has given us the blessings of a peaceful nation, but how do we share these blessings with others, especially those who are in need? Our decision should not be merely based on personal satisfaction, interest and ulterior desire of only a few people but based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Church does not belong only to the few. It belongs to Christ and Christ is for all.
Welcoming the stranger is not only a human duty of hospitality but also a precise demand of fidelity to Christ’s teaching. The issues and challenges that they face are not just their own but ours. It is our duty as Christians to do something for them.
Christ, after touching the lives of His disciples, sent them to spread the Good News, to heal the sick, to forgive sinners and to welcome strangers. After being transformed by Christ, they didn’t close their doors and enjoy life inside their houses; instead, they immersed themselves into the concerns of people.
It is up to us now to welcome the “strangers” and make them a part of our community.
ACMI hopes that more Catholics and Singaporeans can be more empathetic to the struggles of the low income migrant brothers and sisters. The everyday person can do his or her part by practising the four values of “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating” as a response prompted by Pope Francis towards the migrants.
To “welcome” with a simple smile or a greeting. To “protect” through creating awareness of trending crimes in Singapore or how to seek help should a problem arise. In “promoting”, encourage skills sharing and knowledge with each other.
Finally, “integration” should be seen as a two-directional process. We respect and share the different cultures, identities and traditions of one another.
To find out more about ACMI, visit http://www.acmi.org.sg/.
Father Charlie Oasan is the Spiritual Director of ACMI.