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An international forum, under the theme, “Time for Action: Doing rights-based governance of Migration and Development in our Communities and Across Borders” was held for the 9th consecutive year, from 5th to 12 December 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The global forum and its connected events were organized by the Migration Forum Asia (MFA) and by the Government of Bangladesh.
MFA acts as a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers.
Representatives of 23 countries including 8 Sri Lankans who work on migration matters locally participated in the event. A Migration officer from Caritas Sri Lanka also had the opportunity to take part in this year’s Global forum.
Participants engaged in many group discussions during the sessions that targeted the wellbeing of the migrant workers and actions that ensure the rights and justice, especially for the victims of migration related issues. Government Migration Officials both in Sending and Receiving countries and NGOs who operate in both ends for the rights of the migrant workers shared their views on the issues they face on a day today basis. They also sought to find sustainable solutions and shared best practices of different countries apply, to ensure the rights of the migrant labour force. The expert analyzed the extended interest and genuine commitment of different country officials in solving issues of their migrant labour force.
NGO representatives also shared numerous actions some countries have taken for the smooth functioning of the entire migration process, especially for individuals who wish to enter the migration labour market.
Some of the salient features that were taken up during the group discussions include:
- It was noted the existing Kafala (sponsorship) system in the receiving countries lead to numerous abuses and exploitation of workers as this system allows the employers of the migrant workers to withhold the passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions. Furthermore, this also allows the employers to force their workers to continue their work against their will and forbid them returning to their country of origin. Therefore the sending governments, rights groups and NGOs must pressure the receiving governments to amend this system for greater flexibility or to go for the complete abolition of the Kafala system.
- Another aspect that drew much discussion was the importance of gaining a Minimum Wage Limit (MWL) for all the migrants irrespective of their country of origin, through collective lobbying by the sending countries.
- The forum saw all the participants geared for better information and best practices sharing and emphasized the need to strengthen the process through an effective network among all the stakeholders,
In addition, interested parties focused their attention on the Sri Lankan labour migration process and raised their concerns in dealing and collaborating with government working mechanism & procedures on the migration related affairs.
- Many NGOs who work for the rights and justice of Migrant workers and operate in the receiving countries pointed out that Sri Lanka offices based in those countries do not cooperate with them as to the same level as the other Asian counterparts such as India and Philippine especially when a case of a migrant worker is taken up. In fact, Sri Lankan offices do not backup or take the side of the migrants when they are victimized.
- They stated the Sri Lankan migrants to Middle Eastern countries need more training on the language skills and information on the destination country. Many NGOs observed that Sri Lankan labour migrants do not know where to go or whom to reach for support and legal counseling when in distress.
- The work of the sub-agents in the process of migration in the Sri Lankan context drew much attention of the forum. It was noted that due to the non-legal status of sub-agents, many migrants have fallen victim to numerous troubles and fraudulent rackets. In fact, there were instances that sub-agents have produced fake training documents and have sent the migrants abroad. Therefore experts recommend bringing the sub-agents and the brokers under a formal and legal structure.