Rights for Migrant Workers in the Spotlight

The plight of migrant workers around the world got significant attention from rights advocates this week ahead of International Labor Day on May 1. Across the globe, according to advocates, migrant workers face a broad range of serious human rights abuses that range from unpaid wages and long working hours, to sexual abuse and murder.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant domestic workers continue to face abuse in Asia and the Middle East despite moves by several governments to reform legislation and provide better training for law enforcement, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report. Most of the domestic workers, almost all women, hail from impoverished parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia.

“Several governments have made concrete improvements for migrant domestic workers in the past five years, but in general, reforms have been slow, incremental, and hard-fought. Reforms often encounter stiff resistance both from employers used to having a domestic worker on call around the clock and labor brokers profiting handsomely off a poorly regulated system,” Nisha Varia, HRW women’s rights researcher, said in a press release.

Amnesty International singled out the situation for migrant workers passing through Mexico in a new report, “Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico,” calling the journey through Mexico “one of the most dangerous in the world.” Tens of thousands of migrants, predominantly from Central America, cross through the country every year en route to the United States.

“Riding precariously on the tops of freight trains, many are met with discrimination and xenophobia, targeted by people smugglers and prey to kidnapping by criminal gangs. Every year thousands of migrants are ill-treated, abducted or raped. Arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials are common,” the report (.pdf) charges.

Even in countries with strict labor laws and robust law enforcement, migrants remain one of the groups most vulnerable to abuse. Many migrants experience situations akin to human trafficking victims. In search of better economic futures, they find themselves forced to work long hours, abused and cut off from the society around them. While most countries have laws on the books to protect migrant worker rights, the reality of stigma, corruption and ignorance leaves most abuse unreported.

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