For the first time in five years, delegates from Asian countries will meet to discuss the rights and conditions of migrant workers. Beginning today, Bangladesh will host the regional discussion under the theme “Migration with Dignity,” featuring representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam — all countries that send large numbers of workers abroad. On the three day agenda: sharing strategies to improve coordination, optimize benefits from migration, and prevent abuses at home and abroad.
Human Rights Watch, Migrant Forum in Asia, and CARAM Asia said in a briefing paper released today that the delegates should work to improve the rights of migrant workers and argued that they should give priority to protecting migrant domestic workers, who are at especially high risk of abuse, and to ending recruitment-related exploitation.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Some three million Asian men and women migrate for work each year, contributing significantly to the economies of both their countries of origin and countries of employment. Labor migration expands opportunities for individuals trying to improve their lives, but may also be accompanied by the risk of deception and abuse. Migrant workers play a key economic role – they fill labor demands in host countries and in 2010, Asian migrants sent home an estimated US$175 billion in remittances. Gulf countries in particular rely heavily on Asian contract labor; for example, there is approximately one migrant domestic worker for every two Kuwaiti citizens. Migrants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have fueled construction booms in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.”
Migrant workers are at great risk for work related abuses including exploitation, unpaid wages, hazardous working conditions, physical and sexual abuse, and forced labor, including human trafficking.
“Even though migrants from Asia confront similar abuses while working abroad, their governments have typically addressed these bilaterally, and the results have been far weaker protections than if they negotiated together,” said Mohammad Harun Al Rashid, regional coordinator for CARAM Asia.
Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW was optimistic about the chances for collaboration at the meeting: “Abuses against migrants are often linked to gaps in information, poor coordination, and competition for jobs, so it’s a big deal for these governments to sit around the table and address these problems together. The Dhaka meeting is also a chance to share information about successful reforms with other countries in the region.”