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Saarc countries set to script new action plan on migration

- Post Report, Kathmandu

May 2, 2016-The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), whose member countries remain major sources of origin of migrant workers, is scheduled to develop a new Plan of Action on migration in the first week of May.

While Saarc countries contemplate ways to solve the issues of migrant workers, stakeholders are worried its history of taking on traditional approach towards where migrant women are considered might curb the potential of the women of this reason to work abroad with dignity.

“The meeting should focus on removing gender discriminatory restrictions on women’s migration, ensuring access to quality pre-departure trainings, and designating qualified embassy personnel to ensure that women have more economic opportunities,” said Renu Rajbhandari, president of Women Rehabiliation Centre, an organisation that has been working on the rights of migrant women. “This is an opportunity for Saarc governments to show a genuine concern about the situation of migrant domestic workers and to listen to them.”

The two-day meet is expected to come up with a declaration on the rights of migrant workers, set minimum wage, establish a regional standard contract ensuring ethical recruitment and improving access to justice.

A strong common stand from the Saarc region regarding domestic workers is especially important as destination countries like Oman, Qatar and the UAE exclude domestic workers from the ambit of labour laws.

Civil society members argue that the history of partial or total bans on women’s migration, enforced in many Saarc countries especially for ‘low-skilled’ work, has only made the situation of migrant women worse.  They have also expressed concerns that the new plan of action is taking negative approach towards migrant women on the pretext of protecting them.

A recent report by the International Labour Organisation and Global Alliance Against Trafficking of Women suggested that bans limit women’s economic opportunities in their most productive years and place them at greater risk of abuse during their journey, and give them less control over their migration experience.

“Such bans push women to seek irregular migration channels through the help of smugglers and agents, making them more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and debt bondage,” added Rajbhandari.

In Nepal’s case, the government announced a “free-visa-free-ticket” policy last July to facilitate workers to migrate to Gulf countries, but the ban remains on recruitment of female domestic workers in the region.

Female migrant workers who have faced exploitation in the Gulf countries have stressed the need for pre-departure trainings that contain pertinent information, including language and culture training, information about their legal rights and protection mechanisms in case of abuse, and accurate information regarding their work and workplaces.

“We also want reassurance that our embassies in the destination countries will help us,” said Sobha Tamang, who had recently returned after working as domestic help in Kuwait for two years.

Published: 02-05-2016 08:22

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