A Myanmar migrant works in a Taiwanese-owned garment factory in the northwestern Thai town of Mae Sot May 24, 2007. The Thai government grandly calls it an "export processing zone." A more appropriate term for the town of Mae Sot, nestled in jungle-clad hills on the border with army-ruled Myanmar, might be "sweatshop labour camp". To match feature MYANMAR-THAILAND/WORKERS REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND) - RTR1QET6

As the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), a non-binding pact on worldwide migration governance, was being discussed this week at an intergovernmental meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, grassroots migrant women’s groups in Asia called for accountable implementation of the pact that translates into concrete protection for all migrants regardless of their status.

The GCM, to be formally endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month, sets out 23 objectives for states on managing migration, including minimizing structural drivers of migration, reducing risks for migrants, and ensuring safe and regular pathways.

Despite the non-legally binding nature of the GCM, a number of countries have withdrawn their agreement to the controversial pact, including the US, Australia, Austria, Hungary and Chile.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a victim of labor abuse who became a migrant-rights advocate and is currently an organizer at Kabar Bumi, an association of returnee Indonesian migrants and their families, said: “I hope that GCM translates into concrete protection for all migrants despite the glaringly lacking process to engage migrants ourselves in the drafting [of the pact].

“Most of migrant workers have never heard of the Global Compact on Migration. The UN needs to do more to reach out and inform migrants of the instrument and the follow-up process after the adoption.”

Erwiana’s case sheds light on the plights of female migrant domestic workers. In 2014, she was rescued by a fellow migrant at the Hong Kong airport after she suffered eight months of abuse from her employer. Erwiana was made to work 21 hours a day with no rest day, and given barely sufficient food.

After a lengthy investigation, her employer was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

She was named by Time magazine in 2014 on its list of the 100 Most Powerful People, as an “inspiration” for other migrants to fight against violence and discrimination.

Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian migrant rights organization, said the GCM needed to be more inclusive in providing protection for all migrants regardless of their status.

“The GCM still focuses on how to make migration ‘orderly’ and ‘regular,’ but it ignores the reality that a large number of migrants in receiving countries like Malaysia, where [the] majority of migrants are undocumented, are equally entitled to protection,” she said. “As long as the GCM still endorses seasonal and temporary migration, it will not ensure the rights and protection to migrants as it promises.”

Cherry Clemente, a member of the executive committee of Migrante International, an alliance of overseas Filipino workers, said: “Temporary migration schemes only prioritize the interests of private sectors and businesses who exploit cheap labor without providing social protection and a living wage for migrants. The GCM should not serve to legitimize the labor-export policies that are prevalent in Asia-Pacific countries. Instead, the GCM should prioritize concrete protection and rights of migrants.”

As the access to UN processes is challenging for grassroots migrants, the GCM must ensure that the voice and direct participation of migrant workers will be at the core of its implementation and monitoring, and not just space dominated by UN agencies, governments or big international non-governmental organizations.

“If states are prepared to adopt the GCM, they should, as the first step, implement the GCM commitments, and ratify the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families,” said Suluck Lamubol, program officer for the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

Groups representing female migrants reiterate that despite the non-binding nature of the agreement, states must follow through the commitment to protect the lives of migrants as set out in the compact, while addressing the drivers of migration including economic inequality, lack of decent work opportunities, climate change, structural violence and conflicts.

This article was adapted from a press release issued by APWLD.

Eni Lestari

Eni Lestari migrated from Indonesia to Hong Kong to become a domestic worker 17 years ago. Initially a victim of labor abuses by her employer, she became an activist advocating for better protection and empowerment of migrant workers. In 2016, she was chosen by the United Nations to speak as a representative of migrants around the world in the first ever UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in New York.

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