Saarc ministerial in Nepal to forge cooperation on migrants’ rights

By Anil Giri

Kathmandu : The eight-member Saarc grouping has for the first time started exploring possible areas of cooperation to ensure the rights of their migrant workers who go to the Gulf and Malaysia.

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The migration issue was included among the areas of cooperation during the 18th Saarc Summit in Kathmandu, in November 2014.

Nepal is hosting the first Saarc ministerial summit, which began on Tuesday, to finalize the first Saarc Labour and Migration Action Plan and will approve a regional body to cope with the issue jointly.

South Asia is home to 36 million migrant workers, said Nepal Labour Minister Deepak Bohara inaugurating the regional South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meet.

“Most Saarc nations send labour to the Gulf and Malaysia, which is common in the region, and we have to make a common position on migrants’ rights,” he added.

India sends the largest number of migrant workers among Saarc nations and receives the highest remittance in the region.

The conference will seek possible areas of collaboration among the South Asian nations on the protection and promotion of the rights of labourers and migrant workers as agreed among the heads of states at the last Saarc summit, said Nepal’s labour ministry in a statement.

During the 18th summit of the regional grouping held in Kathmandu, the heads of government had agreed to work for protection and promotion of the rights of workers both in the region and beyond.

In a 36-point joint declaration issued before the conclusion of the summit, Saarc leaders had agreed “to collaborate and cooperate on safe, orderly and responsible management of labour migration from South Asia to ensure safety, security and wellbeing of their migrant workers in the destination countries outside the region”.

Labour ministry officials said the conference would work on a regional framework for collective bargaining to press the labour receiving countries to end exploitation and abuse of migrant workers.

Such a regional framework could make a significant difference as South Asia is the largest supplier of migrant workers to the Persian Gulf and Malaysia. Rights groups say South Asians receive far worse treatment than nationals from Southeast Asian countries in terms of pay and facilities.

The two-day gathering will look into various migration-related issues like training to aspirant workers before leaving for foreign employment, standard labour contract, fixing minimum wages, moral and ethical education to migrant workers, sharing of information, access to justice for migrant workers, helping hands and steadfast rescue among others.

For this, the member countries will make a common position where their workers face similar kind of hiccups in receiving countries and propose a technical committee on how to reduce these challenges.

“We have been facing common problems, so I hope the next Saarc Summit will make a concrete strategy on it,” he added.

Pakistan, which also sends migrant workers is hosting the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad later this year.

“We have been facing trafficking of men and women along with migration, so a common position is a must,” said Minister Bohara.

The proposed document of the regional conference states that the failure of South Asian governments to regulate inter-regional migration has forced millions of people to face abuse and exploitation within the region.

The conference would also seek areas of cooperation to combat human trafficking using the member countries as transit. Human traffickers and smugglers traffic thousands of Nepalis, including women, using India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as transit on the promise of better jobs and lucrative pay.