Countries of Origin Urged to Collectively Negotiate to Stop Forced Return of Migrants

Global migration experts on Wednesday urged the countries of origin to collectively negotiate with the countries of destination to stop any forced return of migrants.

Speaking at an e-symposium, they noted that global migration obliged the destination countries to look after the migrants, irrespective of their immigration status.

They, however, said that at this critical time migrants were left unprotected and were being subjected to forced return. The states that got benefited from migrants’ remittances failed to meaningfully alleviate their sufferings as well, they said.

The migration experts who were from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and The Philippines felt that non-payment of wages of migrant workers amounted to “wage theft” and demanded proper mechanism be put in place so that workers could secure reimbursement of their lost wages.

These observations were made at the e-Symposium on ‘Migrant Workers of South Asia: Experiences of Return, Repatriation and Deportation’ organized by Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU).

In his opening statement, RMMRU executive director Prof. CR Abrar said that linking repatriation with future labour market opportunities amounts to blackmailing by destination countries. “In this trying time there has been stark deficit in protection of migrants in the countries that they help build”, Abrar noted.

Former member of the Nepal’s Planning Commission Dr. Ganesh Gurung highlighted the role that diaspora community can play in rendering services to migrants in the destination countries. He also directed attention to the need for extending psycho-social support to return migrants, who may face serious trauma. Dr. Jagannath Adhikari stated that Covid 19 has exposed the vulnerablity of migrants in the developed world as well.

L.K. Rugunage, migration expert from Sri Lanka, reported that in some countries with the support of the government employers have lowered workers’ salary by 20-50 percent. “This is unacceptable”, he noted. The meeting was told that Sri Lanka negotiated with destination counries that workers would tested for the virus at no cost before they are repatriated home.

William Gois, Coordinator of the Migrant Forum in Asia observed that taking advantage of their government’s repatriation programmes many employers of destination countries are terminating contracts of migrants without clearing their due wages. “This amounts to wage theft”, and demanded origin countries to immediately begin documenting during repatriation of workers or soon after arrival. He highlighted the treatment of migrant workers

Dr. Irudaya Rajan of India stated that “the world has failed them: states, regional processes and international actors, even us, the academics”. Rajan said, while in the short run the situation may look bleak, eventually things would work out for the better for the migrants as new corridors of migration will open up such as in Africa and demands for new types of jobs will be created.

Prof. Nasra Shah of Lahore School of Business noted that even in instances where state authorities announced that work visa would be extended the employers did not comply with them. The declaration of amnesty and waiver of fines by some states only methods “to expedite return”, she noted.

Eminent migration expert and former ILO senior specialist Dr. Piyasiri Wickramasekara noted with regret that regional processes have not been of much use when migrant workers needed them the most. To help develop appropriate policies he underscored the need for proper data generation on return migrants.

This was the second e-Symposium that RMMRU organised under its Covid 19 and Migration seminar series titled Build Back Better. A number of academics, rights activivists, development partners and representatives of migrant organizations attended the symposium.

The symposium made recommendations for countries of destination calling to suspend forced returns during the pandemic, in order to protect the health of migrants and communities, and uphold the human rights of all migrants, regardless of status.

‘Ensure all migrants, irrespective of their status, have access to tests and treatment of Covid 19 without discrimination. In temporary shelters before their repatriation they should be housed in accommodations that ensure safety and dignity.’

;Suspend the Kafala system for the time being to facilitate migrants switching to other employment.’

‘Not to take advantage of the pandemic through exerting pressure on some Countries of Origin and to de-link any negotiation on repatriation arrangement with future labour market opportunities.’

‘Ensure all returning migrants are paid their outstanding wages, benefits and other dues before they are repatriated. If that is not possible, due to prevailing condition they should commit to ensure that employers settle all outstanding claims as soon as the situation permits.’

‘If migrant workers are to be returned, the 'cost of the flight' should be borne by the Company in which they are working.’

For countries of origin, they also called for ensuring registration of all migrants preferably before they start their return journey in temporary shelters in CODs and if not in quarantine facilities in home country that documents their unpaid wages and other benefits.

‘Negotiate with CODs that workers can lodge claims for reimbursement of their lost wages once situation improves and seek legal redress. Develop strategies to ensure that migrants return in safe and dignified condition.’

The recommendations were made to engage migrants’ and civil society’s active participation in charting out such strategies. 

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