Red Cross Red Crescent promotes migrant welfare in Asia

Published: 27 November 2002 0:00 CET

The Red Cross and Red Crescent has been calling on governments in the Asia-Pacific region to do more to ratify existing international conventions seeking to protect migrants and refugees, who are too often subjected to racism and discrimination.

Population movement is one of three central topics being discussed at the 6th Asia-Pacific Regional Red Cross Red Crescent Conference in Manila.

The region, which is home to 60 per cent of the world's population, also hosts the largest number of refugees - approximately six million. But but it also has the fewest ratifications of the major human rights conventions, including the 1951 Refugee Convention.

In addition to refugees, the region also has more than 4.5 million internally displaced people, with Indonesia and Afghanistan accounting for nearly half of that figure. Asia also provides the largest source of migrants.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are between five and seven million international migrants in the Asia-Pacific region and up to nine million in the Middle East. In addition, the scale of internal migration within the region is huge, with 58 million people being moved in recent years in China and India alone as a result of major dam projects.

"We need to confront attitudes that discriminate against migrants and refugees. People are struggling to have even the basic right of access to health care,"Didier Cherpitel, Secretary General of the International Federation, says.

"Population movement has left a trail of poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion in its wake. It is very disturbing that many Asian countries have yet to sign and ratify the international conventions that would protect the rights of migrants and refugees," he adds.

Among these treaties is the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Twelve years since it was adopted by the UN General Assembly, it has been ratified by only 19 countries and needs one more before it can enter into force.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Asia Pacific and the Middle East are providing protection and assistance to refugee and migrant communities such as in Iran and Pakistan where there are still more than 3 million Afghan refugees.

Assistance is also being provided in Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal and many other countries. This includes running tracing services to link separated families and programmes that provide health services and support to families who are left behind by migrant workers, often in dire circumstances.

In Manila, workshops have been dealing with this pressing issue. One recurring theme is that national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies should use their unique position and influence to advocate for the provision of basic human rights for migrant populations.

Engaging in a constructive dialogue with those who can influence the welfare of migrants, and highlighting the humanitarian effects of existing laws and policies were some of the suggestions
of how this could be achieved.

The needs of migrants are great, and it was stressed that the Red Cross Red Crescent needed to play to its strengths: "Instead of coming up with new things it should do to address these needs, National Societies should work on expanding and adapting their current services such as health, disaster preparedness, and others to meet the needs of displaced persons," said Hisham Harun Hashim of the Malaysian Red Crescent and Chairman of the Population Movement and Migration working group.

Addressing the migration issue effectively will depend to a large extent on cooperation, not only with governments, but also with other international organizations. Carmella Torres, deputy director of the International Labour Organization told delegates that the ILO and the Red Cross Red Crescent could cooperate in promoting policies that would help protect the basic rights of migrants.

Hans-Beat Moser, head of Migration at the Swiss Red Cross, also pointed out the need for cooperation between regions, in particular Europe and the Asia-Pacific, given the large number of migrants that arrive in Europe from countries like Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This trend is likely to increase in light if Western Europe's growing need for foreign workers to compensate for labour shortages.

Related links:

VIth Asia-Pacific Regional Red Cross Red Crescent Conference
Asia-Pacific regional reports