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Tough Times for Asian Migrant Workers

The global economic crisis is taking its toll on Asia's migrant workers too and many are losing their jobs. Although there are no precise figures, aid agencies estimates that the number of unemployed migrants is significant and rising worryingly fast. Behind each figure lies a difficult fate.

All over Asia, migrant workers are losing their jobs

All over Asia, migrant workers are losing their jobs

Monerul left Bangladesh seven months ago. He invested some 9,000 dollars into building a new life in Singapore but ended up with nothing.

“In my country, the family members have no money so I came to Singapore to work. But now I have no job and I send no money to my country. My father and mother have no money because my boss gives me no money,” he said.

For some time, Monerul found jobs in shipyards and construction. In 2007, almost 800,000 migrant workers from all over Asia were hired to work in this highly-productive sector. But as the economy slid into recession, mass layoffs started affecting migration flows.

Fewer possibilities for migrants

“People are seeing that there are fewer opportunities so they are likely to stay at home,” explains Manolo Abella, the Chief Technical Advisor of Migration at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“But those who have already left their homes and are in foreign countries are the ones in a bad situation because they have invested money to go abroad and they need to recoup it. If they lose their jobs, they might end up being in an illegal situation."

Human rights groups say that the economic slowdown and its impact on migrants highlight how vulnerable these workers are in general. They are not only the last to be hired and first to be fired but they face constant exploitation and abuse.

The economic crisis is only exacerbating a situation, which is already bad, says Abella. “The support mechanism for their continued stay is also weakened during this time of crisis because the politicians do not want to appear to be favouring foreigners over national workers.”

Those who lose their jobs will probably go back home in much more debt than when they came.

Thousands of migrant workers at risk of destitution

There are no precise figures for the number of migrant workers in Asia who have lost their jobs. But Anne Berger, a member of a local advocacy group in Singapore, “Transient Workers Count Too”, estimates the figure in the city state to be at least “a thousand and probably many more because we just know the ones who have contact with us for help.”

“Transient Workers Count Too” and other such organisations do not only help migrant workers if they lose their jobs but also if they have problems with their employers or are not paid for instance.

Monerul will probably not be allowed to stay in Singapore without a job because the government is very strict but there is no bright future for him in his country of origin, he says.

“If I go to Bangladesh, my family will die. I am also dying. No money. My house was taken by the bank. A 4,000 dollar loan bank. So if I go to Bangladesh I won’t be happy.”

Monerul is just one of millions of migrant workers in Asia who have gone abroad to find jobs and earn a living. Most live in middle-income countries such as Malaysia, which boasts an estimated 2.5 million foreign workers from neighbouring countries, followed by Thailand with 1.8 million.

  • Date 23.02.2009
  • Author Daniela Ditko 16/02/09
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsA4
  • Date 23.02.2009
  • Author Daniela Ditko 16/02/09
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsA4