Call for greater protection of migrant workers' rights

Southeast and East Asian governments should intensify efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse, the UN and partner agencies have urged.

The call was issued in a wide-ranging report on international migration among 16 Asian nations released on 20 October. Besides individual country reports, it discusses a number of migration-related issues, such as gender and health.

It noted that while some progress had been made by governments in protecting migrants' rights, "the issue remains the most problematic area of migration policy. It is imperative for governments to intensify efforts to protect the fundamental human rights, promote the welfare and uphold human dignity of migrants."

The report is an initiative of the Regional Thematic Working Group on International Migration including Human Trafficking, which joins 16 UN and international agencies, co-chaired by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Recruitment policy

''What is unique in this region is that in many countries there has been a commercialisation of the migration process. In the recruitment process, migrants are often handled by private recruitment agencies, rather than handled by the government, which often becomes a source of abuse or fraud.''


"What is unique in this region is that in many countries there has been a commercialisation of the migration process," said Keiko Osaki, chief of the population and social integration section in UNESCAP's Social Development Division.

"In the recruitment process, migrants are often handled by private recruitment agencies, rather than handled by the government, which often becomes a source of abuse or fraud," she said at the launch of the report in Bangkok.

In 2003, for example, potential Indonesian workers paid a total of US$193.5 million to agencies in order to win jobs overseas, the report stated.

While countries that deploy large numbers of migrants may have several hundred private licensed recruitment agencies, governments often lack the capacity to effectively monitor their practices.

"Many governments of origin countries have had to take strong measures to address problems of fraudulent job offers or organised schemes for smuggling workers clandestinely through borders, and to put limits on fees charged from workers, but seldom with any significant effect," the report stated.

Feminisation of migration

Other recommendations include urging nations that send out female migrant workers to provide gender-sensitive protection, and for host countries to provide sufficient access to shelters and legal aid in cases of exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

According to the report, recent research shows a general "feminisation" of migration, with more women seeking work in foreign countries in the face of rising male unemployment or underemployment.

While there are more male than female migrants overall in the region, the number of women migrating from some countries has overtaken the numbers of men who migrate.

In Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka women comprise between 62 and 75 percent of legal migrant workers annually, the report stated.

Trafficking


Photo: United Nations
A map showing the 16 nations of East and South-East Asia. (Click magnifying glass above to enlarge)


Because of problems gathering data, there are no definitive statistics on the numbers of irregular migrants nor of people who are trafficked – although estimates of the latter run into the hundreds of thousands.

But individual country assessments point to a large number of migrant women who are irregular or trafficked. In Indonesia, for example, the number of undocumented migrant workers is "substantially higher" than documented migrants.

Labour standards

The work done by many women is in "highly feminised sectors" such as healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing/textile and domestic work, according to the report. Some of these sectors, such as domestic work, are not legally recognised or protected by labour laws.

Osaki said governments also needed to formally recognise the work performed by migrants and associated minimum pay and labour standards.

"A large number of labour [migrants] in this region are domestic workers. Their work is not really recognised as an occupational category," she said.

The report also outlined the impact of migration on children, saying that those who migrated to foreign countries with their parents were the most vulnerable and seriously affected.

"Children who migrate internationally as well as children born to irregular migrants often have great difficulty accessing social services or securing a legal identity," it stated.

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