Include migrants in service and support during outbreak

Statement of the APMM on the situation of migrants during the coronavirus outbreak

As the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) worsens, it exposes the growing vulnerability and insecurity experienced by migrants everywhere.

As of this writing, the virus has infected more than 82,000 individuals in 44 countries and territories as well as in the cruise ship MV Diamond Princess. Deaths numbering to 2,801 have already been recorded. To date, according to reports from news agencies and partner organizations of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), migrants who have contracted the virus are: 1 Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, 1 Bangladeshi worker and 1 Indonesian domestic worker (recovered) in Singapore, 1 Bangladeshi worker in the United Arab Emirates, and 1 Filipino caregiver in Taiwan. The number of migrants who have been compulsorily quarantined, however, could not be confirmed.

Malnutrition, among many poor working conditions, has been cited as a possible factor that makes Bangladeshi construction workers vulnerable to the virus in Singapore. In both Hong Kong and Singapore, many migrant domestic workers (MDWs) have been prevented from going out on their rest day since the outbreak. In early February, the Hong Kong Labor Department issued a statement encouraging MDWs “to stay at home during their rest day”.

In addition, migrant organizations in Hong Kong received the following complaints from MDWs: (a) having to purchase increasingly expensive surgical masks and alcohol for their personal use because they were not provided for by their employers; (b) taking a bath and changing clothes every time they go back to their employers’ homes after doing an errand (some having to do this three times at most in a day). This practice is only imposed on MDWs; and (c) having to plead their employers to let them go out on their rest day. Some employers reasoned that MDWs might contract the virus when they go out. The three cases in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore belie this reasoning as the MDWs in Hong Kong and Singapore and migrant caregiver in Taiwan contracted the virus from their employers who got infected first.

Many MDWs fear not being paid for not taking their rest day or losing their jobs if they insist on taking it. Such situation increases anxiety among them. The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, a loose network of migrant organizations of various nationalities based in Hong Kong, will release the results of a survey looking into migrants’ conditions during the outbreak.

In the Republic of Korea, migrant workers in factories fear not only the possible infection of the virus but also the possible loss of their jobs and livelihood. With number of infected cases rising in the country, the South Korean government has halted employment of migrant workers as possibility of factories closing down looms.

The travel ban imposed by the Philippine government for their nationals to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan had threatened the jobs and livelihood of their nationals. With the immediate imposition of the ban, Filipinos were unable to fly back to resume work in these areas or be reunited with their families living there. Anxiety gripped MDWs, factory workers and caregivers stranded in the Philippines because their employers might terminate their employment at any time. While the government has already lifted the ban in Taiwan and made some exemptions for Hong Kong, there is no information provided as to the number of employment contracts terminated or loss of jobs on the part of migrant workers due to the ban.

Reports have reached APMM that the crewmembers of the cruise ship MV Diamond Princess, who were Indonesians, Filipinos and Indians, continued to work despite the outbreak in the ship. Based on various news reports, around 91 (13 per cent) out of 691 infected patients in the said cruise ship are crewmembers.

The APMM appeals to governments of migrant-destination countries to take a human rights-based approach in dealing with the plight of migrant workers. This includes socializing helpful information regarding the outbreak to the migrant sections of their society, upholding the protection of rights and welfare of migrant workers instead of curtailing their rights or limiting their movement, and extending provision of free safety material like surgical masks, tissue paper and alcohol to them. Prices of these materials and basic goods like rice should likewise be regulated so that both migrant workers and the local community could afford them.

Governments of migrants, through their embassies and consulates, should also reach out to their nationals and provide immediate support, rescue and repatriation. For example, the Bangladeshi government has reportedly repatriated their nationals from Wuhan, China and we encourage all governments to do the same for their nationals seeking help.

Racism and xenophobia should be addressed. Cases of Chinese and Asians being racially profiled, attacked and blamed for the outbreak have been reported in countries like Australia, the United States (USA), United Kingdom and Italy. Governments should take proactive measures to prevent any more incidents while providing avenues for grievance and support for distressed migrants.

In the light of the virus crisis, we appeal to the international community, especially to the governments, to reflect on the vulnerabilities migrants face in their daily lives.

Everyone should be accounted for and given equal attention. We should leave no room for social exclusion.

Reference: Aaron Ceradoy, APMM General Manager
APMM is a regional migrant center committed to support the migrants’ movement through advocacy, organizing and building linkages for migrant’s rights.

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