Les misérables nouveau: the lives of Filipina workers in the playground of the rich

To start with look, French photographer Thomas Morel-Castle’s paintings has all of the trappings of a modern day fairytale: princesses in lavish Parisian mansions; vacations in hilltop villas at the Côte d’Azur; guarantees of wealth and prosperity.

However his pictures divulge a grittier fact. Morel-Castle’s lens as an alternative alights at the unseen Cinderellas, the Filipino girls employed to cook dinner, blank, iron, babysit and obey any instructions that come their means, utterly beholden to the whims in their challenging, tough employers.

An estimated 50,000 other people from the Philippines are believed to be dwelling and dealing in France, nearly all of whom lack reputable paintings lets in. Maximum of them are girls, serving as nannies and home workers for wealthy Gulf households who divide their time between Paris, the French Riviera and the Center East.

At nightfall many Filipinos gather to chat, drink and buy Filipino food in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Women play bingo and men play dice, October 2016



Election of Miss Filipino of Paris during the celebration of the independence day of the Philippines in Paris



A mass in Tagalog, the main Filipino dialect, is celebrated at Sainte Bernadette Church in Auteuil, in the 16th arrondissement.



Children playing after a mass for the Filipino community



  • The Filipino group in Paris is close-knit: at night time many acquire to speak, consume and drink; a Leave out Filipino of Paris is elected all over annual celebrations to mark the independence of the Philippines; mass is held each and every Sunday

But the trimmings of wealth that encompass them can masks an underbelly of exploitation and abuse. Out of the country home staff are recognised as one of the crucial prone to being mistreated by way of their employers. In the back of the closed doorways of luxurious residences and beach mansions, some will paintings with out receiving their pay, have their passports confiscated and be not able to hunt lend a hand.

Six years in the past, Morel-Castle, 35, was once dwelling in Paris’s graceful 16th arrondissement – house to celebrated museums, gated villas and the Arc de Triomphe – when he spotted numerous Filipinas having a look after youngsters within the parks and cafes. After he chanced upon a gaggle of them within the metro in the future, he approached the ladies, curious to determine what had drawn them to town.

A Filipino domestic worker washes dishes on board a barge along the Seine, April 2016.



It was once an interplay that might in the end exchange the way in which he seen his personal nation.

Over the process the next 12 months, Morel-Castle turned into pals with one of the crucial girls, chatting to them in regards to the households they’d left at the back of within the Philippines and their precarious new lives in France. As he helped them open financial institution accounts and blank too-high-to-reach home windows in palatial appartements, he didn’t pick out up his digital camera as soon as, who prefer as an alternative to ascertain mutual agree with.

Ultimately he started documenting their lives, focusing particularly on two girls: Donna, 42, and Jhen, 37. He photographed them cleansing properties, Facebooking their babies again house and socialising throughout the close-knit Filipino group.

“They’ve left the whole lot they know – their nation, their youngsters – to care for people’s households and homes,” says Morel-Castle, who says his sequence Filipinas is a tribute to their accomplishments. “They have got those arduous lives for a reason why: to ship cash house to reinforce their very own households’ long term.”

Gathered on the doorstep of their home, Donna’s parents and two of her sons are waiting for her phone call. This is the only place where there is sufficient internet reception. When Donna’s mother sees her daughter, she bursts into tears: only she understands what her daughter is going through because she too had to go into exile in her youth. Meanwhile, the children are joking around.



  • Accumulated at the doorstep in their house within the Philippines, Donna’s circle of relatives stay up for her telephone name. Donna’s mom is tearful – she understands what her daughter goes via as a result of she too labored in a foreign country in her adolescence

For Donna, who grew up deficient in a rural mountain village with a dream of in the future changing into a nurse, lifestyles has entailed a sequence of compromises to offer her 4 youngsters the alternatives she by no means had. In 2012, she paid a smuggler €13,000 (£11,800) to deliver her to Europe, arriving first in Denmark earlier than settling in Paris. She has no longer returned house since. Simply ultimate 12 months, her 21-year-old daughter turned into the primary individual within the circle of relatives to graduate from college.

Donna is going to sleep at a friend’s house after being forced to move out of her maid's room after her bosses were evicted from their home.



“I’m very pleased with my daughter. It was once my very own dream to turn out to be a nurse, and now I after all did it with my daughter,” she says. “It’s very arduous being clear of my youngsters, however I’m pleased with my sacrifice. As Filipinas, we’re used to being some distance from our households as a result of such a lot of people are running in a foreign country […but] you’re at all times desirous about your circle of relatives.”

In 2016, one in every of Donna’s employers, a rich Gulf circle of relatives who spent their summers at the Côte d’Azur, requested her to recruit a pal to sign up for the house responsibilities body of workers. Morel-Castle introduced to take the process himself. By the point they realised he was once a person and French it was once too overdue to seek out any individual else, he says.

The revel in of being embedded in a “clandestine villa” the place “no person would ever know what was once occurring inside of” was once eye-opening, says Morel-Castle, who discovered himself running along undocumented north Africans who had been nonetheless ready to be paid for his or her paintings the summer season earlier than. He discovered that the circle of relatives had been erratic no longer best with their bills however with their requests as neatly: after body of workers spent 3 days filling the swimming pool, they had been compelled to drain it with buckets in the midst of the night time just because “the circle of relatives didn’t like the color of the water”.

A worker prepares the pool before the bosses arrive, August 2016, Cote d’Azur.



Some of the massive body of workers of Filipino and north African workers, Morel-Castle was once the one one with prison standing to are living and paintings in France. He spent the primary six weeks gaining the agree with of the employees, and best photographed them with their consent (the circle of relatives by no means found out that he was once a photographer). What he witnessed within the villa, he says, was once obviously exploitation. The circle of relatives wielded their energy over their body of workers relentlessly.

“The villa was once a microcosm the place the one regulations that implemented had been the ones dictated by way of monsieur and madame,” he says. “We had been on name in any respect hours, we didn’t know after we would get started or end, or if we might ever be paid.

Donna is waiting for news from her bosses, January 2017, Paris. The apartment is dark because the ceiling lights don’t work. Her Libyan employers have not paid their bills



Donna walks the dogs of a French actress in the 16th arrondissement, October 2016



Donna takes a break after cleaning the apartment, August 2017



Donna takes care of the baby of the sister of her Libyan boss, who is passing through Paris, January 2017



“I had heard a large number of tales about what [life as a domestic employee] was once like as a result of I’d been running in this tale for a 12 months by way of then, however I actually didn’t be expecting such behaviour in France. Seeing with my very own eyes the running stipulations of those Filipino girls satisfied me to proceed documenting their lives.”

Morel-Castle’s pictures – accrued over the process six years, documenting Filipinas at paintings, at house and of their group – are at their maximum tough as an indictment of the human price of globalisation. There’s Jhen in her tiny maid’s room (which she’s going to ultimately depart as she will not have enough money the hire) juxtaposed with the large mansion of her employer (a Saudi princess); Donna as she modifies the nappy of 1 boss’s child, contrasted together with her blue-lit portrait as she video chats her personal youngsters, whom she has no longer observed in individual in 8 years.

Donna’s children spending time together in their home in Tublay, Philippines. Two of them are looking at their phones



An estimated 10.2 million other people from the Philippines – 10% of the country’s inhabitants – are these days running in a foreign country, consistent with the Fee on Filipinos Out of the country. Their remittances had been valued at $30.1bn (£23.21bn) in 2019, more or less 10% of the rustic’s GDP. But Morel-Castle’s footage power us to inspect the excessive social price at the back of the economics.

“No longer some of the girls I photographed has been in a position to return and notice her circle of relatives, as a result of they don’t have visas and so they’d need to get smuggled again [into Europe],” says Morel-Castle, who travelled to the Philippines to spend time with Jhen and Donna’s households after successful the 2019 Camille Lepage award.

The paternal grandmother of Ron, son of Jhen, hugs her grandson, in Cavite, Philippines.



Jhen works for a Saudi princess in a mansion in the 16th arrondissement, September 2016, Paris.



Jhen’s daughter, Jennidel, 17, at school in Cavite, Philippines



Rodel, 45, Jhen’s husband, works as a traffic warden in Manila, Philippines.



Jhen tries to call her two children, age 15 and 17, in Manila, from Paris, October 2016



  • Jhen works for a Saudi princess within the 16th arrondissement; her daughter, Jennidel, turned into pregnant at 17, which – in a rustic that doesn’t allow abortion – may spell the top of her training; Jhen’s husband works as a visitors warden in Manila; Jhen hasn’t observed in her youngsters seven years, however tries to be in contact

“In those eventualities the place the girl is going in another country, it’s the husband [left behind] who finally ends up taking good care of the circle of relatives. Nevertheless it’s very patriarchal. Even though he works, his wage is not anything in comparison to what the spouse sends house. He has a troublesome time discovering his position. And it’s difficult for the youngsters: they haven’t observed their mom for years and so they don’t actually perceive all that she has sacrificed for them.”

For Donna, the fairytale dream of incomes more cash and enabling a hit futures for her youngsters is undercut by way of the on a regular basis limbo of her lifestyles in Paris.

“After 8 years right here, I nonetheless don’t have any papers, as a result of I desire a sponsor who will claim me and sadly all this time I’ve been running part-time [for various employers],” she says.

“I’m nervous about getting stuck by way of the police. Many Filipinos have already been deported instantly again house. It’s a question of being cautious, all over, at all times.”

Tublay, Philippines, August 2019: Three generations of women gather at the entrance to their house. Donna is absent.



  • 3 generations of girls in Donna’s circle of relatives again within the Philippines. Having acquired her nursing degree, Donna’s daughter Nicole, 21, desires of running in a foreign country

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