Protecting has to do with our duty to recognize and defend the inviolable dignity of those who flee real dangers in search of asylum and security and to prevent their being exploited. I think in particular of women and children who find themselves in situations that expose them to risks and abuse.”

Pope Francis


Refugee Women’s Protection Corps

Engaging Men as Partners for Change: Hakim’s Story

Hakim, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, is one of a handful of men volunteering with ICMC’s Refugee Women’s Protection Corps in Malaysia.

Refugee Women’s Protection Corps member Hakim, Malaysia
“Gender-based violence is a topic that everyone should know about, regardless of race or culture.” – Hakim

He and fellow Corps members support refugees who have suffered sexual or gender-based violence and raise awareness of the issue within refugee communities.

Hakim became aware of the effects of gender-based violence on his community by listening to survivors’ harrowing stories. “I thought this type of thing happened only in movies.” This new awareness pushed him to act.

Though still few in number, male Corps members like Hakim are increasingly vital to the fight against sexual and gender-based violence.

Their involvement is essential to protect women and girls and can lead to better protection for men and boys as well. Male survivors are even less likely than their female counterparts to report abuse they’ve experienced because of social stigma.

Men like Hakim have different possibilities to approach and influence religious and community leaders. Hakim says he knows which arguments can convince people that gender equality is best for families.

His work with the Corps has made Hakim rethink the roles of men and women in his culture. He began doing jobs at home – traditionally “women’s work”. He felt shy at first to be seen cooking or caring for his children. No more.

His words and actions have influenced the men around him, as well as encouraging his wife to take on tasks usually done by men.

“Were it not for ICMC services, we might be on the road as we had no place to stay. The shelter was a safe place for me and my children, and we had an opportunity to lead a normal life. My children had a chance to learn, they did not have a chance to study before. … I also can now speak a little English and Malay.”

A Rohingya refugee

Transformative, Community-Rooted, Empowering

The Refugee Women’s Protection Corps reduces sexual and gender-based violence and protects vulnerable refugees, in particular women and children. It is active in Rohingya, Burmese and other refugee communities in Kuala Lumpur, the Klang Valley and the state of Penang in Malaysia.

Volunteer and child, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Refugee Women’s Protection Corps assists refugee survivors of sexual or gender-based violence in Malaysia. Photo: Volunteer caring for a child at an awareness-raising event co-organized by ICMC.

Trained female and male refugee volunteers offer rapid, sensitive and language-specific support to members of their communities affected by sexual and gender-based violence. Through home visits, peer counselling, interpretation services and a hotline, they provide survivors with access to emergency shelter and medical and psychological care.

Through community events and training sessions, the Corps raises awareness and brings about more just treatment of women.

The program taps into the communities’ own resources to protect people at risk, combat harmful gender stereotypes, oppose violence and re-assert the human dignity of survivors.

“The ICMC officer responded to my call even though it was 4:00 a.m. and advised me. … I am very glad to have shared the information about what happened to my daughter with the social worker. I tried to forget the incident in the past and put it away but now am glad that she is receiving the necessary help, especially the medical check-up.”

A Rohingya refugee

  • The Refugee Women Protection Corps in Malaysia was highlighted as an innovative program by the association Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. Read more.


Making Migration Work For All

2018 saw the launch of two Global Compacts on human mobility – one to ensure Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and one to share responsibility for Refugees (GCR).

With these international agreements, UN Member States made landmark commitments to act together to find sustainable solutions for people on the move.

Throughout the year, ICMC was at the forefront of civil society advocacy to UN member States.

With a number of NGO partners, we played a leading role by sharing the experience of uprooted people, churches and other faith-based institutions and a host of other communities welcoming people on the move. And we raised specific protection concerns and highlighted gaps at each stage of the process.

Given the mixed – migrant and refugee – nature of human mobility today, we emphasized how crucial it is that the two Compacts work together.

Migrants in the Horn of Africa
ICMC advocated for making protection of the most vulnerable the foundation of the Global Compacts for Migration and on Refugees. Photo: A group of migrants in the Horn of Africa.

ICMC called for an overarching approach, with no distinction in terms of rights and access to basic services between regular and irregular migrants, and more emphasis on expanding safe and regular pathways and regularizing uprooted people’s status.

We repeatedly urged an end to child detention and other deterrence practices such as family separation and criminalization of irregular migration.

Protecting the most vulnerable was a particular focus. We highlighted the need to include persons in need of protection, including those who are not recognized as refugees according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as victims of natural disasters and environmental degradation.

Central American migrants in Chiapas, Mexico
ICMC called for the respect of human rights and access to basic services for regular and irregular migrants alike. Photo: Central American migrants on their way to the U.S.

After several governments manifested their intention to withdraw from the Global Compact for Migration, ICMC President Dr. Anne T. Gallagher urged all governments to strengthen international cooperation on migration instead. In an opinion piece published by the World Economic Forum in August, she recalled that “no country can deal with migration alone, [thus] working together is the only way to make sure migration works for everyone.”  

With an eye to implementation, ICMC urged including enhanced accountability and detailed follow-up measures in both Compacts. We committed to continue facilitating the contributions of civil society organizations as crucial actors in the implementation of the Compacts, as well as to changing negative narratives and to helping make migration safe and mutually beneficial for all.

“As actors who work directly with migrants on the ground, we look forward to working with member states and other stakeholders to implement the Compact in a manner that guarantees the human rights of all migrants and upholds the rule of law.”

Joint Civil Society Message to the Member States at the Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, 10 December 2018

Capacity Building

A Partnership for Migration Governance and Rights-Based Mobility

The Migration and Development (MADE) West Africa program entered its second year of implementation seeking to curb illegal recruitment practices and migrant-smuggling, as well as strengthening local advocacy capacity in Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. With these goals, the program carried out research, capacity-building and multi-stakeholder dialogues. It also provided pilot seed funds to grassroots organizations.

Participants at a workshop in Guinea
The Migration and Development (MADE) West Africa program seeks to curb illegal recruitment practices and migrant smuggling. Photo: Participants at a MADE event in Guinea.

Together with its main partners – the Center of Migration Studies (CMS) of the University of Ghana, the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD, UK) and the Forum des Organisations de Solidarité Internationale Issues des Migrations (FORIM, France) – ICMC Europe sponsored four multi-stakeholder meetings to promote synergies and share good practices among local, national and regional stakeholders.

In Senegal and Guinea, the meetings focused on illegal recruitment practices and migrant-trafficking while in Ghana and Sierra Leone, discussion concentrated on the Free Movement Protocol of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). On the former topic, stakeholders considered initiatives, challenges and good practices. On the latter, they heard about research findings on the Protocol in their countries and were asked to design a road map towards implementation.

Participants at a workshop in Guinea
MADE West Africa workshop in Guinea.

Four in-country trainings in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso aimed at filling gaps and needs identified in project research. Participants received introductory knowledge and skills on how to engage with and influence policy- and decision-makers in relation to the ECOWAS Protocol and discussed local development, entrepreneurship and the informal economy.

MADE West Africa approved six grants of Euros 8.000 each. The seed funds were allocated to grassroots organizations in five countries.

Through research, advocacy and capacity-building work, ICMC Europe and its partners are raising awareness and building skills of local civil society organizations. The project also reaches representatives from national and local public institutions responsible for preparing and implementing labor migration and integration policies.


Protecting Filipino Migrant Workers

With roughly 10% of the country’s population working and living abroad, the Republic of the Philippines is one of the world’s largest sources of migrant workers. Regrettably, many workers leaving the country in the hope of a brighter future fall victim to exploitative working conditions. An estimated 784,000 Filipinos live in a state of modern-day slavery, and women between the ages of 18 and 27 are most at risk.

The St. John Neumann Migrants’ Center in Baclaran, near Manila, welcomes returning overseas Filipino workers and their families who have been victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking, and foreigners seeking asylum. It addresses their immediate needs and concerns.

The Center helps people like Michelle, who traveled to Saudi Arabia to be a domestic worker but was caught up in an abusive work environment. She suffered sexual harassment, maltreatment, and underpayment from her employer. After raising these issues with the recruitment agency responsible for her contract, Michelle was illegally fired. The St. John Neumann Migrants’ Center helped her file charges against the agency and provided her with trauma counseling.

A foreigner domestic worker in Saudi Arabia
The St. John Neumann Migrant Center assists foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia like Michelle, who was abused and harassed by her employer.

The Center offers a variety of protection services to returning migrants and people who plan on migrating. These include rights awareness-raising, education on the risks of illegal recruitment and human trafficking techniques, referrals to government agencies, and skills training.

Throughout the Philippines, the Bishops’ Conference’s Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People protects migrant workers’ rights by offering information on safe migration and legal and psychological counseling in parishes and dioceses.