Oman. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Gyanibash
Oman. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Gyanibash

Legislators from the Philippines and almost 140 other countries will discuss the outline of a planned United Nations compact on migrants and refugees at a five-day gathering which starts in Geneva today.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, scheduled to run until March 28, will be attended by about 740 members of government representing 6.5 billion people. Its main focus will be a package of UN-led reforms aimed at offering more protection to people living and working outside their countries of birth.

There are believed to be more than 60 million migrants living in Asia and the Pacific, while a further 100 million Asians are working abroad, mostly in the Middle East. Asian economies were expected to benefit from almost US$276 billion of worker remittances in 2017.

UN members agreed in 2016 that the existing migration framework offered inadequate safeguards and called for two global agreements to strengthen them — the Global Compact for the Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. The UN wants both compacts to be signed off by the end of this year.

The Philippines is part of an African Group of countries that are mostly sources of migrants, along with Bangladesh, Nepal and a number of Latin African nations. They are pushing for migrants to be given the same rights as other employees in host countries.

Somayya Mohammed, an immigration lawyer based in the Middle East, said that migrant workers continued to face exploitation under the kafala (visa sponsorship) system despite promises by some countries of improved conditions.

“Domestic workers, particularly, are often forced to work in isolation and harsh conditions and are vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse,” Mohammed said.

One former domestic worker from Tanzania, who gave her name as Fatima (a pseudonym), said she spend two years locked in her employer’s house in Oman being exploited and mistreated after arriving in 2014, AllAfrica reported.

She was fed two meals a day, which came from the host family’s leftovers, and was only allowed to communicate with her own relatives for 10 minutes every two months.

There are about 2.4 million domestic workers in the Middle East, with most originating from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.