South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF) Statement on the Situation of Migrants and Members of their Families amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF) Statement on the Situation of Migrants and Members of their Families amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF), comprising national human rights institutions (NHRIs) from 6 countries in the region, namely the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (Komnas HAM), the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) and the Provedoria dos Direitos Humanos
e Justiça (PDHJ) of Timor-Leste, issues this statement to draw particular attention to the plight of migrants and members of their families in South East Asia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impacts of the pandemic, lockdown restrictions and emergency powers of States, on migrants and members of their families are greatly visible and alarming. We cannot stress quite enough how the rights and dignity of migrants and their families have been significantly
affected by the pandemic and its health, socio-economic, and political repercussions.

Migrants, including undocumented, irregular, low-skilled migrant workers, refugees and stateless persons have faced and continue to experience xenophobia, discrimination, barriers to access to healthcare services and social protection measures, and exclusion in pandemic responses. [1] Migrant workers in the informal sectors, majority of whom are women, have been at greater risk of gender-based violence as stay-at-home orders posed difficulty in leaving abusive employers.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected a total of 2.7 billion workers, or around 81% of the world’s workforce.[2] Lockdowns and related business disruptions, travel restrictions, and other containment measures have had drastic impacts on workers and enterprises. Migrant workers are part of this affected workforce who are pushed to return to their home countries for loss of jobs. Aside from difficulties to secure basic livelihood, and insufficient support and services for their return journey[3], migrant workers also face other challenges such as poor conditions in quarantine facilities and lack of adequate health care and transportation. There are also reports of cases
of wage theft wherein migrant workers are sent home without salaries or other employment benefits and with no recourse or means for redress.[4]

SEANF recognizes the plight of the migrants and members of their families who grapple with the loss of their jobs or income and who may experience fear and suffering as a result of the pandemic. SEANF members also offers its deepest condolences to migrants and their families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted the contributions of migrants in their host and home countries (which by the way have always been significant even before COVID-19) – migrant workers are considerably part of the healthcare workforce who are the front liners in the pandemic response; they are also the backbone of the food and service industry making sure that people who are in quarantine are provided with their basic necessities.

Noting the Governments’ initiatives to address the concerns of migrants and their families, SEANF wishes to underline the importance for the sending and receiving member states of ASEAN and South East Asia to ensure the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, taking into account the fundamental rights and dignity of migrant workers and family members especially on the protection from exploitation, discrimination and violence, and proper labour migration governance and the fight against trafficking in persons.

SEANF urges the Member States in South East Asia to adopt and implement the recommendations by the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in their Joint Guidance Note on the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Human Rights of Migrants[5] among which are the following:

  1. “Integrate migrant workers into national COVID-19 prevention and response plans and policies;
  2. Include migrants and their families, regardless of their migration status, in economic recovery policies, taking into account the need for the recovery of remittance flows;
  3. Pro-actively prevent discrimination and scapegoating of individuals or groups of migrants;
  4. Guarantee the right of all migrants and their families to return to the country of which they are nationals; and
  5. Include migrants and their families, regardless of their migration status, in economic recovery policies, taking into account the need for the recovery of remittance flows.”

SEANF also urges fellow NHRIs in the sending and receiving countries to remain vigilant in guaranteeing that immediate and proper assistance is given to all migrants. Coordination with other NHRIs in origin, receiving and transit countries is encouraged to ensure that migrants who are stranded or are in distress have access to justice and remedies.

The regional reviews of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (Global Compact for Migration or GCM) would be good venues as well for States and relevant stakeholders such as civil society and NHRIs to comprehensively update on the milestones, challenges, and gaps in implementing the GCM.[6] The regional reviews are happening in this critical juncture, in which the GCM can help in addressing the negative impacts of the pandemic on the human rights of migrants and their families, and enhancing the positive contributions of migrants.

SEANF will continue to engage with the respective governments, civil society organizations, as well as regional and international human rights institutions to find just and sustainable solutions, access to justice and redress for labor rights and human rights issues violations experienced by migrants and members of their families, particularly in this time of the pandemic.

Footnote:
1 International Labour Organization, “ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Second edition. Updated estimates
and analysis,” 7 April 2020, available at
https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_740877.pdf (Last
accessed: 23 April 2020).
2 Id.
3 Id.
4 Justice for Wage Theft Campaign, https://justiceforwagetheft.org/en/page/kjolr2n202 (Last accessed: 20 November
2020).
5 UN Committee on Migrant Workers and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Joint Guidance Note on the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Human Rights of Migrants, 16 May 2020, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Migration/CMWSPMJointGuidanceNoteCOVID-19Migrants.pdf (last accessed 1 October 2020).
6 High-level webinars on ISCMs and the GCM regional review (2020), https://www.iom.int/high-level-webinars-iscms-and-gcm-regional-review-2020 (Last accessed 22 November 2020).