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Asian migrant workers' health rights being violated

Asian migrant workers' health rights are seriously being violated, leaving them vulnerable in the receiving countries.

This issue must be made a top priority, said migration and health experts yesterday.

They said in most cases, migrants work under pressure and in exploitative conditions, resulting in health hazards, but both the sending and receiving countries lack appropriate migration health policies.

The observations came at a discussion on health challenges for Asian migrants at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the city organised by International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The discussion comes ahead of the Colombo Process, an alliance of 11 Asian labour receiving countries, scheduled to hold its fourth ministerial meeting from April 19 to 21.

Regional migrants' rights body CARAMASIA, Human Rights Watch and Migrants Forum Asia held a seperate meeting of civil society groups on the issue at Hotel Sundarban in the city yesterday and today.

"Facts show that migrants often under-utilise health services for different reasons that result in their vulnerability and can be defined as barriers to the health care access," said Jaime F Calderon, regional migration health manager of IOM.

The reasons include poverty, stigma, discrimination, social exclusion, language and cultural differences, separation from family and socio cultural norms, administrative hurdles and legal status, he said.

Furthermore, due to lack of inclusion in insurance schemes, migrants may pay for their health services out-of-pocket. As services are expensive, migrants tend to forego basic primary care and hence face preventable morbidity and mortality, he said.

"Migrants often delay seeking care until health conditions reach an advanced stage. This ultimately leads to higher cost to the migrant and the health system, increases risk of permanent disability or death and public health consequences," Calderon said.

Speakers said domestic female workers, who are not recognised by national labour laws in receiving countries, are even more vulnerable. If they are found HIV positive or pregnant, they are deported.

Migrants also go through mandatory medical tests and are even detained if found pregnant and HIV positive, which is a clear violation of human rights, they added.

Pointing to regional cooperation, IOM Regional Representative Rabab Fatima said healthy migrants are assets for better productivity and so both the countries involved should come up with stronger policies, which cater to migrant health issues.

Health Secretary Humayun Kabir said Bangladesh could do a medical check up of the returnees to help protect their families from communicable diseases.

While health insurance for the migrants is not possible, the government could consider having health insurance for their families, he said.

Expatriates' Welfare Secretary Zafar Ahmed Khan and UNAIDS Regional Partnership Advisor Dawn Foderingham also spoke.

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