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«AKM Ahsan Ullah, Yusnani Mohamed Yusof, Maria D'Aria Universiti Brunei Darussalam Working Paper No.20 Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei ...»

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While Malaysia relies heavily on migrant labour for their industrial and agricultural sectors, migrants supplement the entertainment and agricultural sector in Thailand. Migrant scholars often glorify migration by the fact that women are well represented in all migration streams as a result of the global trend of increasingly feminized migration. However, a large section of these female migrants end up in the domestic service and entertainment industries. Ng (2004) argues that since the colonial period, young women migrants provided sexual services in brothels and in entertainment outlets such as dance halls and cabarets, this continues even today.

As regards their occupational engagement during the interview (both destinations-Malaysia and Thailand- combined), 17 of them worked in garment factory; 3 in palm garden, 15 free lancing (domestic worker and else), 14 in entertainment industries, 10 in beauty salon, 16 in massage parlour, and 19 did not want to respond. Regarding their civil status, 48 of them were single, 20 were married and 26 of them were either divorced or separated. Almost half of them (42) were in the 20-25 age group; 37 in 26-30 and 15 were in31-35 age group.

Of the total respondents, 76 per cent reported that they have not been able to send any money to home in the first year. Reasons varied. Of the 76 per cent, 60 percent said their salary is so low that they cannot save anything to send home. About 25 per cent said they do not get any salary and about 15 per cent said they were paid on irregular basis. There is no fixed salary. Those who claimed to work in beauty salon and massage parlour were in fact providing sexual services.

Whatever earnings they have go to their employers. They do not have any control of the money they earned. Indonesian migrants are the lowest paid among. Elias (2008) found similar findings in her study.

Of the 15 free lancers, 11 reported that they provide domestic services on call basis. However, they have employers who oversee them and get commissions on their income. Why are they paying them when they are free lancers? The respondents fear that if they do not pay, the employer will call police to arrest them. Irrespective of destinations and profession, 46 per cent reported being sexually abused. The perpetrators are mostly their employers and employers’ friends; 28 per cent reported being physically abused. Most who are in the entertainment sectors reported being 15 confined. Possibly the category of workers that has been most neglected by the local labour interests are those involved in prostitution. As it stands women in the sex sector are already poorly protected, with police harassment and raids of brothels being a common occurrence.

Return: A double edged sword

What do migrants do when it is unsafe to leave and is unsafe to stay? When migrants make plans to return to their home countries a few things come to their mind: how to reintegrate themselves;

what to do again; do they have sufficient savings to start something all over again; can they start a family life; how would they be looked upon by the society; if they are welcomed, what are the expectation of them from family members; if they would be allowed to leave by their employers;

if they have sufficient cash to buy a ticket to home; and how safe their return journey is going to be. Even if they are willing to return, how? Many are duped into getting to the destinations; upon arrival, their chances of escape are slim because syndicate operators keep their passports and other personal documents and threaten them with police action (Ng, 2004). This study found that 93 per cent of the respondents reported having their travel documents confiscated and 57 per cent suspected that their travel documents have already expired and they were prevented from renewing. The respondents were asked what they thought of their migration experience overall (pre-migration; journey; post-migration and return). Seventy three per cent of them said it was unsafe; 22 per cent reported it being dangerous, 4 per cent said it was safe and 6 per cent said it was somehow safe. When they were asked if they would re-migrate under the same conditions, 93 per cent said no and the rest said, may be.


Given the fact that migration is unstoppable, it is critical that the key factors determining safe migration is seen from a human rights perspective. Some scholars argue that safety is contingent upon potential migrants being made aware of the facts involved in migration process. Awareness of course does not work in case of forced or clandestine conditions of migration. Safe migration strategies mean the protection of the rights of the migrants. The only international agreement that attempts to implement safe migration is the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their families. Nevertheless, every international treaty has 16 certain limitations. For example, the convention binds only the signatory countries and the rest are not obliged to respect it. The level of safety in migration is determined by the networks and assistance offered to, and sought by migrants. Migrants moving through illicit networks, such as those involving traffickers, are obviously more likely to be at risk of unsafe migration (Ullah, 2013).

Awareness of safe migration policies and opportunities is a fundamental part of ensuring safety of migrants. Potential migrants should be made aware of the dangers of illegal smuggling and trafficking and they should be given a variety of other options for safe migration. Regarding the safety of the journey that migrants undertake, they have to be aware of how to protect themselves while they cross the border. Related to the need for information about safe migration alternatives, home countries should regulate travel agencies to ensure that they are operating in legal and fair terms. Human trafficking violates the rights and lives of children, women and men since individuals are deceived, coerced, exploited and end up in slave-like conditions, which have deep consequences for inter-state relations, regional agreements and international conventions. Safe migration can occur only under legal circumstances, unlike trafficking which is underground.

In many cases, although migrant workers are aware of the violations of their rights they do not undertake legal action because they fear the consequences. Violations are not merely related to legal aspects (violation of contracts) but also to abuse such as physical, psychological and sexual harassment, forced labor, debt bondage, restriction of movement, underpayment or delayed payment of the wages and benefits. Once migrations get to the destination, they can try to be involved in a process of social integration. This is said to be a good strategy to be safe in foreign countries. It is important to promote programs of integration and participation in economic, social and political life, to promote courses on language and cultural orientation, reunification of family, and integration of “left-behind” in the new community, integration of migrant workers’ children and second generation migrants in the national educational system. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) developed a Technical Assistance Report (TAR) (2008) to help member countries institutionalize anti-trafficking and safe migration efforts (ADB 2008). This can be made available to all aspirant migrants. The study confirms that majority of the respondents in all the four phases of migration (pre-migration; journey; post-migration and return) thought their migration was not 17 safe. Our findings illuminate the need for all countries to enact safe migration policies to ensure the safety of migrants.

Reference List Anam, M. 2007. Safe Migration and Remittances: Reform Agenda-1990 UN Convention on Migrants' Rights. Policy Dialogue. Daily Star, Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2008. Integrating Human Trafficking and Safe Migration Concerns for Women and Children into Regional Cooperation. Tech. no. 40320. Financed by the Regional Cooperation and Integration Fund under the Regional Cooperation and Integration Financing Partnership Facility.

Bajrektarevic, A. 2000. Trafficking in and Smuggling of Human Beings – Linkages to Organized Crime – International Legal Measures – Statement Digest. Vienna, Austria: International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

Briones, L. 2011. “Rights with Capabilities: A New Paradigm for Social Justice in Migrant Activism.” Studies in Social Justice 5 (1): 127-143.

Carling, J. 2007a. “Migration Control and Migrant Fatalities at the Spanish-African Borders.” International Migration Review 41 (2): 316–343.

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Cerutti, M. and Massey D. S. 2001.“On the Auspices of Female Migration between Mexico and the United States.” Demography 38: 187-200.

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Elias, Juanita. 2008. “Struggles over the rights of foreign domestic workers in Malaysia: The possibilities and limitations of ‘rights talk”, Economy and Society, 37(2): 282-303.

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18 Hetfield Mark. 2014. Refugees Must Be Protected, Even At Sea. Dec 19. Worldmaritime news.

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Citizenship Studies, 10:2, 135-151.

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Ng, Cecilia. 2004. ‘Women Workers in Malaysia (1980-2004) Part II: Emerging Issues—Migrant Workers and Sex Workers’, Aliran Monthly, 5, http://www.aliran.com/oldsite/monthly/2004a/5f.html [accessed 10 June 1014] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2012. “Migration and Human Rights”.

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/Pages/MigrationAndHumanRightsIndex.aspx (last accessed 15th of March, 2012) O'Leary, A. O. 2008. “Close encounters of the deadly kind: Gender, migration, and border (in)security.” Migration Letters 15 (2): 111-122.

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