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WORLD: Law to Protect Migrant Workers Short One Vote

by Thalif DeenInter Press Service
October 22nd, 2002

A United Nations convention aimed at protecting the rights of migrant workers worldwide needs to be ratified by only one more country before it becomes international law.

The treaty gives migrant workers and their families the same protections as nationals of the countries where they work.

''I am greatly encouraged that the convention will shortly enter into force; only one more ratification is needed,'' says Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro, special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

In a report to the U.N. General Assembly released Monday, she says that many countries have discriminatory laws and practices against foreigners seeking work in a country of which they are not nationals.

''The granting or denial of visas based on the particular national origin of the applicant, and on the grounds of national security are some of the common realities facing migrant workers,'' the report says.

Rodriguez Pizarro considers the convention to be ''a fundamental element for the protection of the human rights of migrants since it contains a broad vision that includes the migrant's family and the situation of women and children, and explicitly recognizes the rights of undocumented migrants''.

The proposed treaty - the 'International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families' - was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1990 and needs 20 ratifications to become international law.

But only 19 of the U.N.'s 190 member states - including Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Uruguay - have ratified it.

Despite having been around for 12 years, many member states remain unaware of the treaty's details, said Peter Schatzer, director of external relations at the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

''Its sheer bulk, comprising 93 articles, may be a cause of the delay in ratifications,'' Schatzer told IPS.

At the same time, he added, political realities cannot be ignored. ''Many countries are opposed to what they see as the recognition and protection of clandestine and irregular workers.''

Schatzer also said that the recent surge of xenophobia and racism, as well as security concerns, have led to anti-migrant sentiment, ''meaning that governments are exceedingly cautious in this area''.

Many countries, including all traditional destination countries, have human rights legislation in place, as well as anti-discrimination laws.

''The problem is not so much the existence of such legislation but in its fair and impartial implementation,'' Schatzer said.

''Migrants must have knowledge of their rights and the ability to insist in on their respect. Unfortunately, many migrants and in particular those who are undocumented or in an irregular situation, do not have that ability, and this is where abuses occur,'' he added.

More than 185 million people now live outside their country of origin, up from 80 million three decades ago. According to IOM estimates, the number is expected to reach over 230 million by 2050.

Some countries that depend on migrant labor include the United States, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, France, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Malaysia and Singapore, while nations providing expatriate workers include Mexico, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey.

At the height of the Cold War, migrants and refugees were mostly seeking haven in Europe for political reasons. But in the post-Cold War era, most legal and illegal migrants are economic refugees from developing nations, the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.

But in most receiving countries, migrants have no legal rights or are being systematically exploited.

The U.N. report, titled 'Human Rights of Migrants,' specifically focuses on the issue of violence against women migrant workers.

''Due to their double marginalization as women and as migrants, women migrant workers may easily find themselves in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence and abuse, both at home and at work,'' the report said.

Currently, women migrant workers dominate the informal labor market, particularly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They work as domestic, industrial or agricultural workers or in the service sector.

Because gender roles are traditionally established, and men often do not share the domestic chores - particularly looking after children on a daily basis - makes it even more difficult for women to develop personally and professionally, the report said.

It added that the special rapporteur was ''deeply concerned'' about the great vulnerability of women and girls, who are sometimes ill-treated, harassed and abused by family members to whose care they are entrusted.

The special rapporteur said that during the three years of her mandate, she paid particular attention to the situation of migrant women domestic workers.

Human rights violations against these women occur in ''private'', which makes it very difficult to report them or to speak of them with anyone since the boss or employer has absolute power, she said.

Among the report's recommendations: ratification of the convention by all member states; specific programs dealing with women migrant domestic workers; effective strategies to eliminate the use of exploitative labor; and care for migrant detainees by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).





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