International Labour Organisation (ILO) director-general Guy Ryder and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a joint statement on the occasion of International Migrants Day paid tribute to 232 million migrants worldwide, who have left their homes in search of a better and more dignified life for themselves and their families.
“Migrants make significant and essential contributions to the economic, social and cultural development of their host countries and their communities back home,” they said, adding, “but too often these contributions go unrecognized, and instead the public debate is dominated by xenophobic attitudes and discrimination, both in and outside the workplace.”
Discrimination based on one’s migration status not only violates human rights; it is also an impediment to decent work and to social integration more broadly.
Migrants in an irregular situation are often particularly at risk of abuse, as they are more likely to face discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process, they added.
Against this backdrop, it is time for a major shift in the way we perceive migration, they said, adding that we need to redouble our efforts to raise awareness of migrants’ positive social and economic contributions to society. It is time to implement human rights and labour standards more effectively, and to put in place concrete measures to combat discrimination and xenophobia, including enacting legislative and other reforms to eliminate all forms of discrimination against migrants, strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice responses to xenophobia and violence and enabling migrants to access justice, creating multi-stakeholders campaigns to end negative and inaccurate public messages and to promote tolerance and respect for migrants and collecting and disseminating accurate data on discrimination and on the positive contributions that migrants make to the development of both their host countries and home communities.
Likewise, Human Rights Watch advised the SAARC secretary general to leverage the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries’ collective bargaining power to seek greater protection for their nationals working in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Sending a letter on the occasion of International Migrants’ Day, the Human Rights Watch said that a SAARC regional protection initiative could significantly enhance the living and working conditions of workers in low-paid sectors from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh, who routinely face violations of international labor standards and human rights law in the six Gulf states.
“The Gulf countries should recognise the crucial role foreign workers play in their economies and take measures to ensure that their rights are fully respected,” said Asia director at Human Rights Watch Brad Adams. “South Asian governments should join forces to press for reforms to end the terrible abuses against migrant workers that have gone on for far too long.”
The deaths of hundreds of South Asian workers in Qatar have shone a spotlight on the appalling living and working conditions of low-wage migrant workers in the construction sector, Human Rights Watch said.
However, abuses in many sectors persist in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Migrant workers in these countries typically have their passports confiscated and are forced to work under the highly exploitative kafala system of sponsorship-based employment, which prevents them from leaving employers. Employers are rarely, if ever, prosecuted for violations of labor law. As a result, migrant workers in the Gulf frequently experience hazardous working conditions, long hours, unpaid wages, and cramped and unsanitary housing.
Some 1,700 youths leave for Gulf and Malaysia daily in search of greener pasture and around three to four return everyday in a coffin.

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