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Asian nations to talk crisis

Impact of political unrest in the Arab world on migrant workers will be high on the agenda at the upcoming ministerial meeting of the "Colombo Process".

(Article published on http://www.thedailystar.net/ April 17th, 2011)

"We're holding the meeting at a time when thousands of Asian migrants are in trouble due to the Arab world unrest. This is going to take place in such an important period," Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Secretary Zafar Ahmed Khan said.

For the first time, Bangladesh is going to host the Colombo Process on April 19-21 that aims at better protecting the rights of the migrant workers.

Ministers and officials of 11 labour supplying nations and some of the labour receiving countries, mainly from the Gulf and Southeast Asia, are expected to attend the meet.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the programme to be held at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel. The title of this consultation, fourth of its kind is "Migration with Dignity".

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam are members of the Colombo Process. Nine labour importers -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen -- have been invited as observers.

The process that started its journey in 2003 in Colombo aims at facilitating dialogues among the member states and the labour importing countries to strengthen migration management both in the Asian region and in the labour markets, according to the alliance website.

The time is very crucial for the millions of Asian migrants working in the Arab countries, as the recent political unrest in Libya has already forced hundreds of thousands of migrants return home, while in Yemen and Bahrain many are in trouble being jobless due to thinning of businesses.

Already, 35,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers have returned home, majority of them being penniless. Some also died. Many thousand Indians, Filipinos and other nationals fled the destinations.

At such a juncture, Asian labour sending countries are contemplating how they could work together to protect their migrant population during emergencies in the destination countries.

"We want to see that migrants are not made targets and are secure during their (Arabs) domestic unrest," Dr Zafar Ahmed Khan told The Daily Star.

The programme will allow participants to compare experiences, in general, of past emergencies and, in particular, of the global financial crisis, says a document of the Colombo Process website.

It will initiate discussion on "possible avenues of collaboration and potential institutionalization of response to emergencies directly affecting overseas workers with the aim of minimizing the negative impact on both migrant workers and the national economies".

The other issues that will feature the ministerial consultation include setting minimum wage for the migrant workers, Zafar Ahmed Khan said, adding that Expatriates' Welfare Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain has already visited India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka in an effort to have a common stance in favour of the migrants.

He said the process is still non-binding. After the Colombo meeting in 2003, the alliance met in the Philippines in 2004 and in Indonesia in 2005. Since then there was no meeting of the alliance as no country agreed to be the host.

Bangladesh is organising the meeting mostly at its own funding, while the International Organization for Migration is also making some contribution alongside providing secretarial support.

Khan said, "The meeting will also try to finalise the modalities of the alliance. For example, how the process will continue and how the financing would be arranged."

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