Virtual Thematic Workshop: The Impact of the Pandemic on the Situation and Rights of Migrant Workers in Asia


Last Updated (Tuesday, 28 September 2021 16:23)

The Interfaith Cooperation Forum organized the 5-day Virtual Thematic Workshop on The Impact of the Pandemic on the Situation and Rights of Migrant Workers in Asia from 13th to 17th September 2021. Sixty participants from ten Asian countries, namely, Bangladesh, Philippines, Timor-Leste, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, attended the workshop. During this workshop, the participants explored the underlying issues afflicting the migrant workers on labor rights, job security, and working conditions.

The topic on the first day was the question of “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted the Lives and Livelihoods of Migrant Workers in Asia.” Eni Lestari, the Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, exposed how the host governments have excluded migrant workers from the COVID-19 pandemic’s responses, such as the unemployment benefits, income relief, and subsidies. She also showed that even their home governments offered limited to no financial support and assistance.

On the second day, Teresa Sarmiento from the Association of Concerned Filipino Workers (ACTION-Thailand), and Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, Chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-Migrante-HK), backed Lestari and shared compelling stories of their struggles, especially during this time of the pandemic. On the third day, the topic was “The Impact that Migrant Workers have on the Economies of their Host and Home Countries.” Two speakers enlightened the participants on the issue. One was Sringatin, from Asia Migrants Coordinating Body based in Hong Kong. The other was Rev. Frederick Carmelo, a United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor assigned to minister to migrant workers in Dubai, UAE. The two of them explained how migrant workers play an important part in the host and home country’s financial and economic development. Unfortunately, as laid out by the previous speakers, migrant workers receive little to nothing from either side since the pandemic broke out, and they’re faced instead with job loss, forced unpaid leave, among others. Sringatin added how the pandemic affected their mental health due to the lack of communication with their family, safety concerns, and stigmatization by the local nationals, fearing they would spread the virus. This is on top of other pressing conditions of migrant workers, as enumerated by Rev. Carmelo in his talk, – i.e. poverty, exploitation and abuses, and lack of labor rights and social welfare. Finally, on the fourth day, Aaron H. Ceradoy, the General Manager of Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, discussed “The Role of Governments and Labor Organizations in Supporting the Migrant Workers.” He cited that home countries have treated migrant workers as commodities where the sending countries make the forced migration systemic and profitable through Labor Export Program. On the one hand, he expounded that for as long as the migrant workers stay overseas, the sending country profited from them through their remittances. The host countries measure and calculate these remittances in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and categorized these as foreign earning. On the other hand, the receiving country benefits as they treat migrants as cheap labor with limited rights and freedom. For him, the role of intergovernmental agencies is to strengthen the accountability of all actors. The role of non-government labor and migrant organizations is to empower migrant workers to collectively engage and address important policies that either their host or their home country have institutionalized and implemented. The government’s role should ultimately be to listen to the migrant workers’ voices and uphold their rights.

At the end of the workshop, the ICF staff led two breakout sessions to solicit feedback from the participants on the most notable part of the five-day workshop. They address the question on how they could protect and advocate for migrant workers’ rights. Overall, the participants described the sessions as valuable and eye-opening. Some participants said that they would seek help from the government. Some wanted to do some charity to help migrant workers even through their small acts.



Almayne Joyce R. Mayor
YMCA Albay
ICF Alumni, Philippines