Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Don’t neglect migrant workers, refugees, ASEAN leaders told

Don’t neglect migrant workers, refugees, ASEAN leaders told

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there are 1.1 million documented Indonesian workers in Malaysia, with the number of undocumented workers estimated to be double. AFP

Don’t neglect migrant workers, refugees, ASEAN leaders told

Having held a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss steps that could be taken at the regional level to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, ASEAN leaders are now facing pressure not to neglect migrant workers and refugees after the two vulnerable groups were not mentioned at all in the meeting’s main outcome document.

The meeting, held online and chaired by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, resulted in a joint declaration that included the widely applauded plan to establish a regional Covid-19 response fund to deal with the scarcity of medical supplies caused by the pandemic.

However, labour rights advocacy group Migrant Care criticised the declaration for not tackling the issue of human mobility, especially regarding migration and refugees.

“From a careful reading of this declaration, the substance is still within the framework of normative ASEAN cooperation, emphasising more the medical governance approach,” Migrant Care’s Wahyu Susilo said on Tuesday.

While the approach was certainly important and useful, ASEAN should also find a way to help migrants and refugees, which has become an even more pressing matter during the pandemic, he said.

“They are part of a group that is vulnerable to Covid-19. It is unfortunate that ASEAN has neglected this,” he added.

In the declaration, leaders expressed an intention to “prioritise the well-being of peoples in ASEAN’s collective fight against Covid-19” and to “provide appropriate assistance and support to the nationals of ASEAN member states affected by the pandemic in each other’s country or third countries”.

As one of the biggest migrant-sending countries in the region, Indonesia in particular raised the issue at Tuesday’s meeting, with President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo acknowledging the roles migrant workers played in their host countries’ economies.

“The president emphasised that migrant workers have contributed to the economies of ASEAN member countries,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno LP Marsudi said after the meeting on Tuesday.

Dependant on workers

Singapore and Malaysia, among the wealthiest countries in the region, depend on millions of migrant workers to fill low-wage jobs in the agriculture, construction, domestic help and restaurant sectors.

In Singapore, migrant workers are the most vulnerable members of the community, with around a third of the city-state’s 2,918 cases having been linked to clusters at migrant worker dormitories, where workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and elsewhere often sleep 10 to 20 to a room.

In Malaysia, migrants make up around 30 per cent of the Malaysian workforce, said the International Labour Organisation.

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there are 1.1 million documented Indonesian workers in Malaysia, with the number of undocumented workers estimated to be double.

These workers have been greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially following Malaysia’s decision to enforce a movement control order (MCO) policy, which began on March 18 and has been extended until April 28.

“Many Indonesian workers are day labourers, such as construction workers, and are affected by not being able to work because of the MCO, which is a semi lockdown,” Retno said in a livestream discussion on Wednesday.

Indonesian missions in Malaysia have distributed nearly 70,000 food packages to the most vulnerable Indonesian workers, with priority given to day labourers, the elderly and the disabled.

Retno said each ASEAN country had adopted a different approach to contain the pandemic, but that they must not lose sight of the commitment to assisting and protecting their vulnerable citizens in other ASEAN countries.

“Nearly seven million workers migrate within the ASEAN region. I believe they are at the heart of our community-building process,” Retno said in an op-ed published by The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

“With more than one million Indonesians working in Singapore and Malaysia, I have been in close contact with my counterparts to ensure the protection of our migrant workers in their respective countries.”

Wahyu said ASEAN must acknowledge the vulnerability of migrant workers as well as Rohingya refugees, who live in appalling conditions near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

“We urge ASEAN to develop and implement a health protocol for the protection of migrant workers and refugees in the region to ensure they are also an integral part of the efforts to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

“This protocol requires a human rights-based, gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory approach,” he said.



  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • AstraZeneca jabs touch down in Phnom Penh airport

    The first shipment of 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine which was provided through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility was delivered to Phnom Penh International Airport on March 2. The rest of the COVAX provided vaccines will arrive in Cambodia at a later date.