"Caring for refugees is labour intensive"March 12th, 2011
As refugee migrant workers flee political upheavals in North Africa and beyond, 27-year-old Londoner Sam Bayes asks whether a global body needs to take charge to safeguard their employment and welfare.
Of increasing concern for decision makers around the world is the dramatic increase of refugees fleeing North African and West Asia as a result of recent political upheavals.
Libya, in particular, is a country whose oil production has attracted a lot of migrant workers. Mainly from Bangladesh and Niger working for Chinese or Turkish companies, these workers are now left to fend for themselves and arrange in any way possible their own routes out of the revolt stricken countries.
In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report which exposed illegal practices in the employment and care of migrant workers. Often the passports and visas for each worker are paid for by the worker, but maintained by the employer.
Then if a company should become bankrupt, as so many did in the 2008 financial crisis, the visas, passports and often wages would disappear, leaving migrant workers alone in a foreign country and in debt to the middle men that got them the job in the first place.
Latest reports from the Libyan refugee camps on either side of the border show that many workers have had their passports mislaid and are owed three months wages. Their governments have not been active in securing their return because of either a lack of funds or because they are simply unaware of the scale of refugee migrant workers now attempting to flee Libya.
Now Libyan companies are in dire need of the foreign labour that they have in the last few years come to rely on. The health service in particular is struggling to deal with the increased casualties from the revolt.
The UN has a body that is supposed to look after this. It’s called the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and it has published a document called the ‘Declaration of Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation’.
This paper was intended to declare the ILO’s intention to get to grips with maintaining the welfare of migrant workers. This would involve tracking the number of migrant workers entering a nation and ensuring their living conditions are good.
In the case of national emergency, it should include an assurance that they are suitably taken care of. Either in regards to wages or travel documentation, a strong international body needs to ensure that a fair set of procedures are put in place when dealing with international labourers.
As it stands now, these workers are walking great distances to arrive at a border camp, devoid of passports and money, facing continued debt and a long difficult journey home.
It’s been three years since the ILO’s declaration. Let’s hope that if the number of refugee migrant workers increases, that the body responsible for their welfare steps up and fulfils its commitments.