The View From Asia

Refugees, migrants should get their due

Asia News Network writers draw attention to the plight of refugees and migrants. Here are excerpts

Accept Afghan refugees

Huma Yusuf

Dawn, Pakistan

The number of people living outside their country of birth is more than 250 million.

More than 10 per cent of them are refugees. Around 1.4 million of them, primarily Afghans, live in Pakistan (the overall number of Afghans in Pakistan is closer to three million).

Recently, UN member states adopted a global compact for migration. It aims to improve global governance on migration-related issues, including promoting legal migration, providing basic services, better integrating new arrivals, tackling human trafficking and coordinating how to send migrants home.

Some members - the US and a clutch of Eastern European countries - have pulled out of the pact on the basis that it undermines national sovereignty, ostensibly because it dictates how countries should control their borders.

This complaint is an unfounded grumble by administrations.

The pact, which is non-binding, primarily aims to limit the suffering of the displaced.

For many years, Pakistan prided itself on hosting the world's largest refugee population.

But then, the issue was hijacked by securitised narratives.

In political discourse, the Afghan population has been criminalised and made to take disproportionate blame for domestic militancy.

The government's decision to explore granting citizenship to around 1.5 million Afghans is admirable.

It recognises the injustice of denying basic rights to those who cannot return to their home countries.

And it nuances the security narrative.

Domestic politics will prevent Pakistan from a quick move towards granting Afghans citizenship.

Discussions about resource allocation for provinces with larger Afghan populations, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, will also spur inter-provincial tensions. But, by continuing to address the refugee crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan can set high international standards.

Separately, Pakistan should recognise that, irrespective of stability in Afghanistan, a large Afghan population would remain in Pakistan. This is the generation that has been born here, that is being educated in refugee camps in Urdu and English, rather than Dari and Pashto, and that calls Pakistan home.

These Afghans must be counted among active participants in Pakistan's economy and society. For Pakistan's sake, let's hope the premier can live up to this promise.

Protect Bangladeshi migrant workers

Porimol Palma

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

After facing abuses, at least 50 Bangladeshi women and 75 men returned home from Saudi Arabia on Dec 10 - a historic day when the governments from across the globe signed a non-legally binding Global Compact on Migration in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The inter-governmental deal brokered by the UN speaks of safe, orderly and regular migration - features that were followed in the case of migration of the women to the Gulf.

Yet, the migrants had to return home penniless and with the trauma of abuse.

This has been the case for hundreds and even thousands of female domestic migrant workers.

Some of the allegations include physical, mental and sexual exploitation by their employers and, in some cases, by the labour agents who were responsible for their recruitment.

Some were also not paid wages or given adequate food.

Upon returning home, they faced even more painful realities. There have been cases of husbands not accepting their wives, migrant workers who were compelled to return home after being sexually abused by their employers, some of them being pregnant as a result of rape.

Others were rejected because they were unable to send money home.

For the women migrants working in the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia, the risks are higher because they work indoors and are not covered by the local labour law.

If a woman is raped by her employer, she has the right to go to court. The reality, however, is that it is unlikely for a Bangladeshi woman worker - a foreigner in the country she works in - to have the resources or even the confidence to take her employer, a national of that country, to court. Thus, the rapist or sexual predator goes scot-free and the woman migrant worker returns home, penniless and traumatised.

Bangladesh, which has nearly 10 million citizens working abroad, needs to protect those the state has invested in and whose remittances are a big part of its economic growth.

Fair wages for decent work

Jason Judd

The Nation, Thailand

On Dec 18, the world observed International Migrants Day. It was a day to recognise the contributions and struggles of those who have left home in search of work that provides a fair income and safe working conditions. Jobs that help put food on the table and protect their families. In short, what the International Labour Organisation calls decent work.

International Migrants Day was a day to shed light on the one million or more Thais working overseas - those fishing in Malaysia, farming in Israel or in construction projects in Qatar, for example - and also on the more than three million migrants working in Thailand, in fishing, farming or construction.

Their labour is a vital contribution to the Thai economy. In fact, it is hard to imagine the growth or survival of these industries in Thailand without the help of migrants.

Let's look at the fishing sector.

Nearly 90 per cent of the 60,000 fishermen in the Thai commercial fishing industry are migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia.

The Thai government followed the ILO's Work in Fishing Convention when setting standards in labour law for work in fishing - one of the world's most arduous and dangerous occupations.

The convention calls for, among other things, the regular payment of wages, written work agreements, adequate food and water, and safety training for fishermen.

With its recent decision to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, and its adoption of the ILO's Forced Labour Protocol in June this year, the Thai government has chosen to lead the region.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'Refugees, migrants should get their due'. Print Edition | Subscribe