UN and ASEAN: Financial crisis will affect migration in Asia

17 Feb 2009

Bangkok – The global financial crisis may have a dramatic impact on the lives of migrant workers in South East Asia, according to officials at a recent meeting here on migration and HIV. As the crisis unfolds, a two-way increase is expected in the movement of people: overseas migrants returning home after losing their jobs, or those recently laid off at home moving overseas in search of work.

As some countries may take increasingly protectionist stances, the options for formal migration will narrow rapidly. Migrants abroad may face increasingly difficult conditions, with fewer employment opportunities and may encounter greater discrimination and stigmatization. This will lead to more undocumented migrants, unsafe migration, and an increased possibility that migrant would find themselves in situations that either put them at risk or make them more vulnerable to HIV infection.  

“The financial crisis and multi-billion dollar economic stimulus packages being put forward must not forget the faces and voices of migrants and mobile populations who are among the most vulnerable”, said Ms Gwi-Yeop Son, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand and the convener of the Joint UN initiative on migration and HIV/AIDS in South East Asia in her welcome address.

These issues were discussed at a High Level Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support for Migrants in the ASEAN Region which was held on 12 – 13 February 2009, Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting brought together for the first time high level government officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health and Labour from the 10 ASEAN Member States, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), UN agencies and the ASEAN Secretariat. The main focus of the discussions was strategic interventions required to safeguard the right to health of migrant workers, and especially their access to HIV services throughout the migration cycle.

Ensuring universal access to HIV services for migrants is a major challenge in the region.

“The goal of universal access to treatment, care and support for mobile populations can be collectively met if friendlier and more voluntary testing policies of migrants are effectively carried out, where there is a clear delink with the recruitment process, and where detentions and deportations are not applicable to those tested positive for HIV, said Cynthia Gabriel, Regional Coordinator of CARAM Asia, a leading regional network advocating health rights of migrants.

“The Ministry of Public Health in Thailand has recently initiated a health care system for migrants,” said Thailand’s Permanent Secretary for Public Health Dr. Prat Boonyawongvirot. “Registered migrants are able to utilize health care services from the existing services.  However there are still major gaps in reaching undocumented migrants with HIV prevention, treatment and care interventions.”

“The convening of this High Level Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue is significant and timely as it reaffirms the growing importance of migrant workers, who contribute to the society and the economy of both receiving and sending states of ASEAN, and their linkages to HIV transmission. This is a good opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss strategic actions and create an enabling policy environment that will make a difference in protecting the rights and health of migrant workers,” said Dr. Soeung Rathchavy, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN in her opening remarks.

Key recommendations from the meeting included:

* Ensure that HIV testing of migrants adheres to international standards including informed consent, confidentiality and counseling;

* Put into place necessary policies and regulations that ensure that migrant workers are protected and are not subjected to stigma and discrimination, and have equal access to information, HIV treatment care and support.

* Review laws, policies and practices related to HIV-specific restrictions on entry, stay and residence; and ensure that people living with HIV are no longer excluded, detained or deported on the basis of HIV status.

* Strengthen and promote pre-departure and post-arrival orientation for migrant workers on HIV risks and vulnerability and how they can access to health services.

* Develop effective means for the return and reintegration of migrant workers including proper referral to HIV treatment, care and support services.

These and other recommendations will be conveyed to the upcoming 14th ASEAN Summit to be held from 27 February  to 1 March 2009, in Hua Hin, Thailand.

In November, the ASEAN-UN publication "HIV/AIDS and Mobility in South-East Asia" was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Canadian International Development Agency and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Contact Information

Marta Vallejo, e-mail: marta.vallejo@undp.org or tel. +66847004912

Dr. Bounpheng Philavong, e-mail: bounpheng@asean.org or tel.+62217243372