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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Summit tackles Asian labour abuse
Bangladeshis queue for visas outside the Saudi Arabian embassy
Three million Bangladeshis migrated from 1996-2001

The Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has begun hosting a three-day international conference on migrant labour attended by representatives from all over Asia.

The Migration and Migration Workers Health and Wellbeing Conference will assess the problems experienced by more than 15 million people, mostly from South Asia, who work in foreign countries.

Gender-based violence, health problems, inadequate training and poor working conditions will form the bulk of the agenda.

The organisers, the Migrant Forum in Asia and the Asian Migrant Centre, say the conference, which ends on Thursday, gives migrant workers from all over the region the rare opportunity to meet and discuss problems.

Wrongly blamed

Asian domestic workers will describe harrowing experiences in the Middle East, while migrant factory workers in Taiwan and Korea will tell of poor working conditions.

Thai migrant workers
Thai migrant construction workers in Taiwan

The organisers say that while migrant labour has provided better incomes, it has also brought many hardships.

In many cases, the workers are treated as low-status employees at the mercy of discriminatory regimes that encourage foreign professionals to take up temporary residence while simultaneously failing to grant them legal recognition.

Delegates say that migrants are frequently pushed into menial, low-paying and physically demanding jobs where their human rights are not respected and where working conditions are dangerous.

They say that migrants are wrongly blamed for creating crime and social disorder.

Charter motion

As a result, organisers say, they often suffer from mental illness and are sent home as soon as there is any sign of sickness.

Women in particular have suffered over the past 20 years, with many raped or forced into prostitution.

A security officer and illegal immigrants in southern Malaysia
A Malaysian guard oversees Indonesian illegal immigrant workers
The conference is due to pass a resolution against Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan for subjecting women to mandatory Aids testing and immediately deporting workers found to be HIV positive.

The choice of Dhaka for this conference seems appropriate.

From 1996 to 2001, it is estimated that more than three million Bangladeshis migrated abroad.

Many complain that they have been poorly treated.

The conference will end with a motion calling on countries who receive migrant workers to sign a charter which will guarantee their rights.

See also:

27 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Aug 02 | Business
21 Jun 00 | South Asia
29 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Aug 02 | Media reports
12 Feb 01 | Middle East
17 Jun 02 | Business
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