Recently, Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration (Útlendingastofnun) discovered that there may be immigrant children in Iceland brought into the country under false claims of parenthood. The matter is being taken seriously as children are involved and there are reports of child abuse. Now, DNA testing is required to prove the relationship.
I do understand the reasons for this. In fact, many Filipinos are familiar with the requirements as countries like the United States and the United Kingdom may also require DNA proof for immigration purposes. Let me put this in context.
More than one million Filipinos leave the Philippines to work overseas every year. Destinations of choice include the United States (where there are now five million Filipinos residing), Singapore (our tech nerds and domestics there now number over 100, 000), Hong Kong (where our underpaid teachers work as domestics) and the Middle East (I don’t dare count how many, all I know is that the entire region would be at a standstill if not for our skilled workers).
This migration breaks up families and although technology makes the world smaller, there is nothing like the scolding of a mother at the dinner table. Yes, there is not one Filipino family in the whole 7,107 islands (at high tide) of the Philippine archipelago that is not familiar with the longing for family reconciliation.
The presence of Filipinos in Iceland are a consequence of this longing. I was told that the first Filipino to set foot here is someone who was in the American Navy. He fell in love with an Icelandic woman as well as the eerie peacefulness of the land. However, being Filipino, he sought to recreate the same feeling of community and family togetherness by bringing in his brothers and sisters. They, in turn, brought in their kith and kin.
There are now, 3,000 Filipinos living in Iceland. It may be nothing compared to other Filipino communities abroad, but the group is the third largest migrant population in the country.
How is this related to false papers of parenthood? You see, children are raised in the Philippines by the whole family. By family, I do not mean the traditional model of the Western nuclear family. A Filipino family includes cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. To some extent, it even includes godparents, a role taken seriously to mean a child’s second parents in the community.
Also, Filipino families almost always have a matriarch or a patriarch. Someone wealthier or better educated. Sometimes, this family head takes under his or her wing the children of less privileged members. He or she in effect becomes the parent of the child. So, when the Directorate asks for a DNA test to prove parenthood, this limits to an extent what my countrymen have always practiced.
Ask every Filipino in Iceland what “clan” he or she belongs to and 90 percent of the time you will get an answer. A clan is a family unit and loyalties are strong. If someone is in trouble, the whole community knows and is ready to bail that person out. Everyone watches out for each other. If anyone ever mistreats a Filipino child, it will be the Filipino community who will be the first to give up the miscreant.
I am aware of one or two women who have claimed children as their own, but almost always, the child was the son or daughter of a sibling. Filipinos find it strange to adopt a stranger’s child when there is always a relative who needs help raising one. The intention is not to deceive. The intention is to help whoever is most in need in one’s extended family.
I understand though that there is a need for documentation and that in some way, we must prove that this child has ties that secure care and responsibility. The best thing would be for the child to be legally adopted. A long and painful process. Necessary, but something that scares a lot of Filipino families. What is scarier for the community though is the threat of a witch-hunt. Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration vows to check every child brought into the country by their parents.
The question now foremost in their minds is this, “Will the immigration department still send these children home even if they are well cared for and happy to be here?”
Marvi Ablaza Gil – [email protected]
Marvi Ablaza Gil moved to Iceland in 2008. She works as a nurse at the Acute Psychiatry Unit of the Landspítali National University Hospital in Reykjavík. Back in the Philippines, Marvi worked as a feature writer (lifestyle and travel), editor for a broadsheet and operations director of a travel and tourism publication.