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Experts Cite HIV-Vulnerabilities Of Migrant Women

UNDP Press Release

Experts call for immediate attention to the HIV-vulnerabilities of migrant women

Colombo, Oct 08: There is an urgent need to address the HIV vulnerabilities of Asian migrant women in Arab countries so that the economic gains of the countries of origin and host countries, as well as the health and rights of the migrant women are protected, said a panel of experts here.

Asian women working overseas generate substantial economic benefits to their countries of origin as well as host countries, but a large number of them are vulnerable to HIV because of the unsafe conditions under which they migrate and live, said the panelists, participating in a roundtable discussion on “Women migrants and HIV: from Asia to the Arab States," organized by the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo.

Senior officials of the governments and representatives of civil society of Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Lebanon; representatives of key diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka; UN officials; and migrant welfare organizations, participated in the roundtable. The Executive Summary of a research study by UNDP titled “HIV Vulnerabilities Faced by Women Migrants: From Asia to the Arab States," undertaken in partnership with UNAIDS, IOM, UNIFEM, CARAM Asia and Caritas Lebanon was released at the roundtable.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Ajay Chhibber, Assistant Secretary General and Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP, said at any given point in time, an estimated 54 million people were on the move within Asia and to destinations outside the region. About 43 per cent of them were women. Noting that the highest share of global remittances went to Asia in 2006, he said the support to migrant women was far too inadequate compared to their economic contribution. Women often migrate under unsafe conditions, live under very difficult circumstances, and can be targets of sexual exploitation and violence. With little or no access to health services and social protection, these factors can make them highly vulnerable to HIV," he said. In recent years, an increasing number of migrant workers from Asia have been diagnosed with HIV in various host countries and have been deported, causing severe economic loss for the workers and their families.

“There is a need for strategic national, regional and international action to ensure safe movement and access to HIV programmes for migrant and mobile populations,” he said. Addressing the HIV vulnerabilities of migrants is essential for achieving Universal Access, and the Millennium Development Goal and target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015. Mr. Chhibber underscored the commitment of UNDP in tackling the issue at the global and regional levels. Sri Lanka is one of the countries that would benefit from a joint European Commission-UNDP initiative on migration and development, he added.

Presenting the Executive Summary of the study, Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional Programme Coordinator and Practice Leader, HIV and AIDS, UNDP, said migrant women are among the most vulnerable to HIV. It is critical to stress that migration per se is not a risk factor for HIV, but it is the conditions under which people move - separated from families and social support systems “ that make them vulnerable to exploitation and HIV," she added. Women, particularly domestic workers, are among the most vulnerable. They experience basic rights violations, in terms of pay and conditions of work. Many respondents reported physical violence, verbal and sexual abuse."

Speaking on the national programme for reintegration of overseas Filipino workers in her country, Ms. MA Teresa M. Soriano, Assistant Secretary, Department of Labour and Employment, Philippines, said the Government paid special attention to personal reintegration, economic reintegration and community reintegration. Migrants have access to advice on investment so that they can act as a trigger for economic and community activity, she said.

Dr. Duala de Silva, Deputy Director General, Public Health Services, Sri Lanka, said migrant remittances amounted to more than US $ 3 billion a year and supported one fifth of the nation’s population. The Government conducts preparatory programmes for the migrants, which include HIV, she said.

Participating as a key discussant, Ms. Malu Marin, Director, ACHIEVE, an NGO working for migrants’ welfare in the Philippines, and coordinator of the study, said that restricting the movement of women migrants would push migration underground and increase their risk to exploitation and HIV infection. She said domestic workers were tested without consent and counseling and were summarily deported if found to be HIV positive. This needs to change in favour of a migrant-friendly testing policy." The Arab States region is the primary destination for the majority of migrant workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Ms. Sylvia Eid, Caritas Lebanon, another panelist, added that reducing the HIV vulnerability of migrant women was the shared responsibility of both countries of origin and host countries.

The study recommended dialogues and coordination between ministries of health, labour, foreign affairs and social welfare in the countries of origin and destination and facilitate multi-country negotiations between origin and host countries, she said. The research study featured at the roundtable examines the HIV-vulnerability of women migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka to Bahrain, Lebanon and UAE and explores ways to address their HIV risks without compromising their right to movement and livelihood.

The study was based on qualitative research comprising more than 500 interviews over nine months using focus group discussions and key informant interviews with migrant workers, senior officials of the ministries of health, labour and foreign bureaus of employment, embassy officials, service providers and recruitment agencies in both origin and host countries.

The Executive Summary of the study may be accessed here:


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