• Sarah Katrina Maramag

It was the 17th of March 1995, a Friday. I still vividly remember our principal interrupting our class to sadly announce, “Binitay na siya. Tapos na. (They hanged her. It’s over.).” When I look back at that fateful day, so many moons ago, I still remember how the air seemed to have stilled, how our classroom was shocked into silence, how our professor was unable to resume teaching. Some would call it a core memory, for me it was an awakening. 

Like millions of others, Flor Contemplacion, a mother of four, had left the Philippines in the early 1990s hoping to provide a better life for her family. Her life took a tragic turn in 1991 when she was accused in Singapore of murdering her fellow Filipina domestic worker and the child under her care. Despite her pleas and claims of innocence, the wheels of justice, or perhaps injustice, turned swiftly against her. Her trial and subsequent conviction sparked international outrage and brought to light the vulnerabilities and challenges faced by migrant workers around the globe.

I remember the hundreds of thousands of my countrymen that poured into the streets in collective grief and to protest Flor’s execution. 

A few years after, I found myself working with/for the same migrant organisation that led the campaign to save Flor’s life. My “awakening”, coupled with my own mother eventually going to the UK to become a domestic worker, cemented my commitment to advocate for migrant rights, welfare and dignity – a cause to which I have devoted most of my adult life. 

Fast forward to 2015, the 29th of April. We were in vigil at the Indonesian embassy in Manila on behalf of Mary Jane Veloso. Like Flor, Mary Jane had sought employment abroad. Her life turned upside down when she was arrested in Indonesia in 2010 on charges of drug trafficking. Mary Jane maintained her innocence, stating she was duped into carrying luggage containing drugs. Despite her pleas (and her illegal recruiters and traffickers consequently being convicted back home), the language barrier and questionable legal proceedings, she was sentenced to death, a verdict that stunned her family and the world.

That night outside the Indonesian embassy, standing with Mary Jane’s family, I had with me two versions of a press statement, one for each possible scenario. To say that my heart was bursting at the seams when our lawyers called to deliver the good news from Yogjakarta jail is a great understatement. We won! We saved her life!
But, unlike my high school principal, I couldn’t say, “It’s over”, because it is not. Mary Jane continues to languish in jail, her death row verdict still in place. Her story is more than a legal battle – it is a reminder of resilience and the continuous need for advocacy and vigilance in protecting the rights of all individuals, especially those far from home. 


The stories and experiences of the Flors and the Mary Janes are what inspire me most. 

As a migrant myself now, I realise that the rights I currently enjoy are because of them and the powerful movements given birth by their plights and others’ elsewhere in the world. These are rights that we as migrants should have access to and not allow to be stripped from us.

I am proud to be a migrant because of them and others like them.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to continue my life’s commitment and advocacy since moving here in the UK through my work with the3million, an organisation supporting EU citizens and their families. Before coming here, my entire voluntary and work experience was solely dedicated to organising minoritised and marginalised communities — specifically im-migrants and displaced peoples and their families. 

My work has taught me the importance of ensuring that all voices, especially those society deem less important, are heard.

At the3million, I am encouraging migrants to transform their lived experiences of injustice into collective action. My colleagues and I believe that grassroots migrants and community members are the best people to articulate their issues and demands and should therefore be provided spaces to speak for themselves. Our goal is not just about navigating the legal system, but more importantly about forging relationships, sharing stories and collectively working towards solutions that bring about impactful change. 
I am here to listen, to understand, and to facilitate efforts and actions that resonate with the needs and aspirations of our entire community. I realise that wherever we come from, whatever our backgrounds, whatever our reasons for migrating, we all face the same challenges, and yes, share collective triumphs. 

This year’s theme #iammigrant resonates with me because I am not only talking about myself but who I represent and the communities I belong to. For International Migrants Day 2023, I believe the best way to commemorate and celebrate is to strengthen our solidarity. 

We are all fellow travellers – some passing-by, some settling down, but always, always seeking our place to be at home with the world.

In this sense, among migrants there are no borders. And with this comes a feeling of solidarity with all migrants wherever they may be. I am a migrant, and whatever adversity or victory, this sense of solidarity will never not be a good place to be.

You can find the3million on Twitter.