Today, on International Migrants Day, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) celebrates the contributions made by millions of migrants all over the world and calls on the global community to respect the human rights and dignity of migrant workers and members of their families!
More than 214 million people worldwide are migrants – living, working, raising families and building communities in places outside their countries of origin. The contributions of migrants are vast and multifaceted, with their hard work, dedication and creativity supporting the social, economic and cultural foundations of societies around the world. Countries have prospered as migrant workers have built their national infrastructure and fuelled the engines of their economies.
It is also a feat that in 2012, Indonesia became the 46th State to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (UN 1990 MWC). We will not tire and falter in our ratification campaign until all States ratify and implement the Convention.
While today should be a celebratory occasion on the achievements of and for migrant workers, let us also be reminded of the persistent challenge of the global economic downturn that creates a climate of instability, precarious work and continuing struggles of migrant workers and members of their families. Vulnerable groups including migrant workers are strongly affected by these economic shocks. While they are already discriminated because of their status, their discrimination is increased in times of fiscal crisis. Often they are blamed for causing the instability of the economy and society. This situation calls for a comprehensive approach that not only addresses the working conditions of migrant workers but also of local workers in migrant receiving countries. Instead of pitting migrant and local workers against each other, we should strike at the systemic roots of inequality that promote social and economic injustice.
Migrant Domestic Workers
Although domestic workers are still part of a system of invisible workers who are mostly women, members of minority groups, and are migrant workers, they are becoming more empowered and breaking free from the bounds of slavery. They are organizing and advocating for fair wages, rest days, freedom of association and simply to be treated as human beings. MFA joins hands with the global trade unions and civil society organizations in their campaign for the universal ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 (ILO C189 R201). The ratifications of Uruguay, Philippines and Mauritius of the ILO C89 R201 are significant milestones in the formal recognition on the labor rights of domestic workers.
We call other States and the rest of society for change, to recognize that domestic work is work, domestic workers are workers and are not slaves.
Irregular Migrant Workers
We note that migrants, particularly irregular migrants, are increasingly becoming targets of strict border controls, detention and deportation practices. They are detained on administrative grounds – they lack the required employment and residency permits, identity documents and the like. However, the "act" or "state" of being undocumented seems to be an automatic basis for States to arrest, detain and deport migrants. The consequence of such is criminalizing migrants for their irregular status without due regard to the cause of their "undocumentedness." We echo the calls of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants for access to justice, strong procedural safeguards, attention to the special needs of vulnerable migrants, denunciation of detention as a punitive measure, and the authoritative declaration that detention of migrants should be the last resort. Freedom is the rule, detention is the exception.
MFA calls on the global community to recognize and protect the rights of migrants in irregular situations. Resolution 3499 of the UN General Assembly (1975) affirms that no human being is illegal. Regardless of their immigration status or nationality, all migrants have inalienable human rights that States are required to respect and uphold in the exercise of their sovereignty over all who reside within their geographical jurisdiction.
As we sustain our fight for the rights of undocumented migrant workers, we also commend the positive steps taken by stakeholders in abiding with international human rights treaties. The initiative of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in drafting the general comment on the rights of migrant workers in irregular situation is noteworthy. The general comment provides the normative framework for the protection of the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families.
A growing number of people are migrating internationally, following increasingly complex and sometimes clandestine migration routes. Many migrants fall outside of the traditional classifications of "economic migrant," "refugee," and "asylum seeker" – definitions used to categorically determine what (if any) assistance or protection can be provided to them. Of particular concern to MFA are those referred to as "stranded migrants" – migrants who become "stuck" in the course of their migration, either in transit or receiving countries.
The ongoing conflict in Syria and some parts of West Asia and the aftermath of the natural disasters in Japan and Thailand in 2011 are examples where migrants are caught in the turmoil, affecting their legal status and personal safety, security, and wellbeing.
MFA recognizes these challenges faced by stranded migrants and calls on for a coordinated migrant-centered approach, combined with sensitivity to the need for alternative repatriation and strong reintegration program to ensure that fewer migrants become stranded in dangerous life threatening situations.
Freedom of Association and Right to Organize
MFA expresses grave concerns over the alarming actions of governments in curtailing migrant workers' freedom of association and right to organize. This is evidenced by the recent detention and deportation of Chinese migrant workers in Singapore. Chinese migrant workers staged a strike over grievances that include wage discrimination based on nationality. The strike was deemed illegal by the Singapore government and the migrant leaders were detained while other workers involved in the strike were deported.
MFA denounces this draconian act of Singapore towards migrant workers. The harsh actions of the Singapore government and the deportation of the workers overlook the bases for the complaints against wage discrimination based on nationality. MFA calls for a full and independent inquiry into the dispute.
MFA calls on all states to properly implement ILO C100 (equal remuneration) and C98 (Right to Organizing and Collective Bargaining), and ratify ILO Convention 87 (Migration for Employment Convention) and C143 (Migrant Workers, supplementary provisions).
Human rights and dignity for ALL migrant workers!
LDC Watch International Co-ordinator Dr. Arjun Karki addressed the "High-Level Meeting of the Heads of State/Government/Delegation on Rio+20 and LDCs" held on 21 June at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development - popularly known as the Rio+20 - in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.