Destination countries must ‘sanction human rights perpetrators’ against Bangladeshi migrant workers

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants Felipe González Morales

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, on Tuesday said destination countries – most of them in the Middle East – must take an active role in “investigating and sanctioning perpetrators of human rights violations” against Bangladeshi migrant workers.

At the same time, Bangladesh should continue reinforcing its consular services, he added.

"Bangladesh must step up efforts to strengthen regulation of the migrant recruitment system to protect migrant workers against exploitation and abuses," the UN Rapporteur told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka at the end of a 10-day official visit to Bangladesh.

In his preliminary observations, the UN expert said despite the positive economic contributions migrant workers bring to the local economy and the existence of necessary legislation and policy, many flaws still exist in the recruitment system which adversely impact the rights of migrant workers. “These challenges exist at all stages of migration.”

He will present a full report on his visit, including findings and recommendations, to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2023.

Morales stressed on strengthening monitoring and coordination to promote regular migration and help stop human trafficking.

“Recruitment currently imposes exorbitant high costs on many migrants, creating debt bondage, much of which is imposed by “middlemen” who are used to recruit workers,” he said.

He urged authorities to protect the rights of migrant workers at all stages of migration, including pre-departure, during employment abroad and upon their return.

The Special Rapporteur commended the government for actions taken to curb these challenges, but said there was still a need to regulate, closely monitor and enhance the recruitment system to ensure effective protection for migrants, including better access to justice.

The expert noted the stark difference in skilled migration schemes channeled through government-to-government initiatives, which yield more beneficial results for migrants due to more robust regulation and oversight.

“It is the lower-skilled migrants who are often subject to vulnerable situations, including exploitation, as they are often poor, lack education and without access to information that can help inform their decisions and enhance their migration experiences,” Morales said.

The Special Rapporteur encouraged ongoing training initiatives for aspiring migrant workers but stressed the need to better equip them with adequate information prior to departure, including recourse when they suffer abuse.

He welcomed the establishment of a database of aspiring migrant workers as well as better regulation of middlemen, including requirements for registration.

Morales emphasised that responsibility for migrant workers equally falls on countries of destination.

“These countries must do their part in ensuring strong protection for migrant workers, particularly women who are disproportionately at risk of human rights violations when they are hired as domestic workers,” he said.

Durable Solution for All Rohingyas Critical

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur travelled to Cox’s Bazar to meet with Rohingya refugees.

Morales praised Bangladesh for receiving nearly one million Rohingyas escaping from Myanmar and said he was impressed by the resilience of the Rohingya refugees – some of whom have been living in camps for over five years, and others 30 years since first arrivals in the early 1990s.

“A durable solution for all Rohingya refugees is critical,” the UN expert said. He expressed concern about the lack of legal status for Rohingyas, and noted that children who are born in the camps he visited are not issued an official birth certificate.

The expert also called on the authorities to facilitate permits to improve access to education through learning centers and life skills training which many Rohingyas have praised and welcomed as a means to a more hopeful and dignified life.

The UN rapporteur said it is important to enhance coordination among the agencies engaged to address the challenges. "It's a tremendous challenge."

He also noted the need to upgrade the quality of housing in the camps particularly in light of the impact of climate change that have resulted in fire and flooding incidents.