|Goverment & International Bodies: Acknowledge Role on Continued Poverty|
KUALA LUMPUR 17 Oct, 2007: On the 20th Anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, CARAM Asia as a regional organisation working on migration and health issues calls for governments and international bodies to acknowledge their role in the continuing impoverishment of the world’s poor. In conjunction with this year’s theme, People Living in Poverty as Agents of Change, CARAM Asia also calls for urgent and genuine change to empower the world’s poverty stricken communities. Unskilled migrant communities are amongst the poorest, having left poverty in their own countries only to find themselves in dire circumstances in a new environment, with no security and no access to health and public services both at home and host countries. The International Organization for Migration estimated 191 million migrants worldwide in 2005, up from 176 million in 2000 and comprising 3.0 per cent of the global population. Furthermore according to the UNFPA State of World Population report in 2006 almost half of migrant workers worldwide are women constituting about 95 million women migrant workers.
People living in poverty are made vulnerable by their impoverished situation. Poverty robs them from their fundamental rights as human beings, crushing their freedom and leaving basic needs unfulfilled. Migrant workers experience incredible hardship on a day to day basis, facing poor healthcare, lack of shelter and comfort, and have little if any access to education and the opportunity for a better life. For migrant workers, unemployment, underemployment, political and economic crisis at home forces them with no other choice but to migrate to seek ways out of poverty. They are forced to work abroad to improve life for themselves and their families.
The present shape of the global economic system has formed the characteristics of migration today which are forced migration, temporary labour migration, commodification and feminisation of labour. Discrimination through depressed wages, absence of benefits, bad working conditions, lack of access to free health services and social services has created a labour underclass. Women caught in the nexus of globalisation and migration is confronted with the most severe degrees of marginalisation. These conditions disallow migrant communities to be agents of change and compounds the social costs attached to migration
Whilst the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) suggest a commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, neo-liberal economic policies and structures underpinning globalisation are in reality a stark contradiction. Commitment and efforts from the international community and Official Development Aid (ODA) have not been successful in tackling widening income disparities and poverty alleviation. ODA has not necessarily been distributed according to the needs of poorest countries and people’s ownership and participation in the process is undermined as it remains a transaction between governments and is characterised by bureaucracy and lack of transparency and democracy at all levels. ODA has undermined the development of domestic industries and is dictated by conditionalities guided by market oriented policies, militarisation doctrine and fundamentalist views.
The increased global transmission of HIV and AIDS the past two decades has also coincided with the current period of rapid economic globalisation a process spearheaded by liberalisation of international trade, market liberalisation, reforms in tariffs and financial transactions. Parallel to these globalisation policies, payments to service debt has dwarfed developmental aid in most developing regions. The burden of debt repayments imposed by IFIs compounds the negative consequences of economic globalisation, multilateral trading systems and has bounded fiscal expenditure required by developing countries to improve education, health services and social-economic conditions of the poor.
Trade and finance liberalism, domestic deregulation and privatisation of social services contribute to increased economic volatility and widening socio-economic asymmetries worldwide. The consequences of neo-liberal globalisation policies include the restructuring of production; pressures to reduce labour costs; economic displacement of local and traditional industries; increased speculative development projects and loss of socio-economic state support. The drive for profit has left poverty stricken communities increasingly marginalised through the distortions that neo-liberal economic policies create.
Under the guise of economic globalisation, the weakening of social and labour contracts has taken place. Even healthcare has become a commodity to be bought and sold at a high price and inaccessible to the poor. Migrant workers are greatly impacted as health systems both at sending and receiving countries are impacted by economic globalisation. As the emphasis of health care shifts from public to that of profit centered private service, migrant workers face a serious lack of access to health care.
Furthermore to the detriment of migrants’ health and work rights, health concerns of migrants in particular HIV and AIDS are increasingly dealt with as part and parcel of foreign and security policies. These policies are aimed at restricting liberty of movement and the right to work failing to include a public health and rights perspective. HIV status should not be used as an indication of fitness to work. Moreover, migrants, irrespective of their HIV status can and do make important economic contributions.
Unexpected unemployment; low job insecurity; weakening of labour and social contracts; deportation due to mandatory health tests; and income inequality are major factors eroding migrant workers health and wellbeing. Migrant communities must be empowered in order for them to be effective agents of change. They must be provided decent livelihood choices both at home and abroad. Change requires engagement and understanding from a grass roots level, empowering those living in poverty as valued members of the human community.
To eradicate poverty, economic, social and cultural barriers must be broken down. Discrimination is faced by communities in poverty on a daily basis and for the migrant community this is all the more evident as they face xenophobic policies. Discrimination against migrant workers occurs in the labour market, housing, education, health care, social services, immigration policies and legislation. In the midst of states institutionalising discriminatory, restrictive and punitive ad hoc laws and policies, they also send out and spread negative messages through the media to citizens about migrant workers.
The eradication of poverty requires a perspective change. It must be recognised that every human being has rights, has dignity and innate value. Labour migrants, are entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else. These rights are enshrined in international legal instruments and include the right to work, freedom of movement, social security, the right to non discrimination and equality before the law and the highest standard of physical and mental health. These rights are indivisible and the protection and promotion of migrant workers rights must be done in accordance to international human rights standards.
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