Asian governments must ensure that the fundamental rights and dignity of migrant workers are upheld, says a Catholic human rights activist. Irene Fernandez, a Malaysian, was part of a meeting in Dhaka to lobby the fourth ministerial consultation for Asian labor-sending countries by Colombo Process
, being held April 19-21. The Colombo Process an alliance of 11 Asian countries is a regional consultative process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labor for countries. Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam are attending as well as those from eight migrant worker-receiving countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe. “The Colombo Process is an opportunity for increased cooperation and collaboration between the countries of origin and destination,” said Fernandez, who heads the Malaysia-based Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility that organized a meeting for NGOs April 16-18 in Dhaka. About 30 representatives from 12 Asian countries attended that meeting. “I would urge that this opportunity is used to recognize the rights and dignity of migrants,” she said, but pointed out that she does not see any common framework evolving out of the Colombo Process. Countries should have already set a decent minimum wage and made sure that migrant workers have standardized job contracts, she said. About three million Asian workers leave their homes for jobs abroad each year. A majority of them receive low pay and are overworked. Most do not have health insurance and sometimes employers retain their passports. Female workers are also often physically and sexually abused, activists say.