Category Archives: ASEAN

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.


Mekong Migration Network Statement

22 November 2017

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) cautiously welcomes the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, signed by the Heads of ASEAN States during the 31st ASEAN Summit.

MMN is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations (CSOs) working to protect and promote migrants’ rights in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Given the significant impact that ASEAN policies on the protection of migrant workers will have in the GMS, MMN has actively engaged in ASEAN policy dialogues wherever possible.

MMN recalls the optimism and excitement among CSOs at the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007. Although the scope of the Declaration was limited, it nonetheless conveyed the expectation that ASEAN was intent on protecting and promoting the rights of migrant workers. With a commitment to contribute constructively to the follow-up process, various migrants’ rights networks, including MMN, joined forces to formulate the “Civil Society Proposal: ASEAN Framework Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers”.[1] Our joint proposal was submitted to ASEAN in 2009 and was warmly welcomed by Dr. Donald Tambunan, the then head of the Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.[2]

Since then, in preparation for the formulation of an effective instrument, countless CSO and government meetings have been held, including the annual ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML).

The Consensus is a result of these decade-long efforts. On a positive note, the instrument recognises the contribution of migrants to both sending and receiving countries, and reaffirms the respect for and promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

While we are disappointed that the Consensus has practical limitations, since it is not legally binding and the clauses are subject to national laws, regulations and policies, we nonetheless hold out optimism in the positive spirit and moral principles expressed within the Consensus. We sincerely hope that Singapore, the next chair of ASEAN, will display progressive leadership in developing the follow-up action plan.

In particular, we urge ASEAN states to consider the following areas in developing its action plan:

  1. Mediation – While the responsibilities of receiving and sending countries are spelled out within the Consensus, greater clarity is required in terms of how respective countries will resolve situations where there is a contradiction or inconsistency in policies between sending and receiving countries. We urge ASEAN to develop an effective system of mediation whereby disputes and policy incoherence can be discussed and resolved in a constructive, non-confrontational and cooperative manner.
  2. Monitoring – While the responsibilities of ASEAN states are elaborated within the Consensus, no mention is made as to how they will work towards fulfilling their commitments. We urge ASEAN to establish effective monitoring mechanisms to oversee the progress made by member states on issues such as changes made to prevailing laws, regulations and policies to reflect the spirit of the Consensus. As implementation of the Consensus is subject to national laws, regulations and policies, there is an urgent need to develop a coherent approach to implementation to avoid ad hoc application. Furthermore, given the relatively weak negotiation position of sending countries, we urge ASEAN to pay special attention to the challenges faced by sending countries, while encouraging receiving states to facilitate efforts made by sending countries to protect the rights of their citizens overseas.
  3. Meaningful Dialogue with CSOs – In pursuance of the people-oriented community described in ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together, we urge ASEAN to continue an informed and meaningful dialogue with CSOs, including trade unions and migrant-led associations, throughout the follow-up process, notably in relation to the formulation of its action plan and subsequent monitoring and reporting of its implementation.
  4. Inclusive Approach to Rights Protection – In the GMS, where countries share long land borders and where migration is characterised by its mixed nature, it is difficult to identify migrant workers “who become undocumented through no fault of their own”.  We urge ASEAN states to take the reality of migration in the region into consideration, avoid criminalising undocumented migrants, and be inclusive in its approach to applying rights protection, such as by recognising migrant workers’ right to a family life. Moreover, given notable absence of ASEAN policies on refugee protection, we urge ASEAN to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment and provide protection to the most vulnerable members of the migrant population who are in need of protection.
  5. Uphold the Principle of Non-discrimination – We welcome the fact that the Consensus undertakes to adhere to the principle of fair treatment with respect to gender and nationality. We urge ASEAN to take pro-active steps to ensure that this principle of non-discrimination is upheld broadly, including, but not limited to, at the time of recruitment, in workplaces, when accessing social services and when accessing justice systems. For example, we would urge Member States to pay special attention to the principles of fair treatment and non-discrimination in relation to meeting mandatory “health requirements” of receiving states. Such screening should be carried out with the sole purpose of protecting public health by preventing the spread of communicable diseases and not for the purpose of discriminating against certain populations, including, but not limited to, pregnant women and people living with HIV.


Finally, MMN wishes to reiterate the significant contribution made by migrant workers – both professional and low paid workers – in the region. While ASEAN is moving towards easing restrictions on the movement of professional workers in the region, migration policies for low paid workers, who are the majority of the work force in the region, remain restrictive. We would like to highlight the findings from the recent World Bank report, Migrating for Opportunities, which states that easing restrictions on labour migration in ASEAN can boost workers’ welfare and deepen regional economic integration.[3] We hope that ASEAN will take this finding into consideration when formulating migration policies and work towards easing restrictions on labour migration. After all, we hope that ASEAN is moving towards achieving the “caring and sharing” community to which all members of society, including migrant workers and their families, feel they belong.


Mekong Migration Network (MMN), launched in 2003, is a network of civil society organisations and research institutes promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers and their families in the Greater Mekong Subregion. MMN currently has over 40 member organisations, and carries out collaborative research, policy monitoring, advocacy and capacity building. For more information about MMN, visit:

For inquiries about this statement, please contact:

Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator

(Email or Tel +852 93692244)

Omsin Boonlert (Thai and English), MMN Research and Advocacy Officer

(Email or Tel +66(53)283259 or +66 869238313)


Download PDF version here.



[1] Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers (TF-AMW), 2009.

[2] Ibid, page 9.

[3]Mauro Testaverde, Harry Moroz, Claire H. Hollweg, and Achim Schmillen, Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia, World Bank, 2017, page 5.



The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers

The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers signed at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines.

Following the signing of the ASEAN Consensus, an action plan will be developed by the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers.

For the full document, click here.


ASEAN leaders sign commitment protecting migrant workers

The consensus is a followup document to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers adopted in January 2007 in Cebu.

PROTECTING MIGRANTS. Southeast Asian leaders do the trademark ASEAN handshake after signing the ‘ASEAN Consensus on the Protection of Migrant Workers’. Screenshot by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – After a decade, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has finally made progress in ensuring the protection of migrant workers.

Southeast Asian leaders closed their 31st ASEAN Summit, which coincides with the golden anniversary of the community, by signing the “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” on Tuesday, November 14.

President Rodrigo Duterte, representing the Philippines as ASEAN chair, presented the signed document to ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

This consensus is a followup document to the “ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” adopted in January 2007 in Cebu.

It includes the following provisions:

  • Fair treatment of migrant workers with respect to gender and nationality
  • Visitation rights by family members
  • Prohibition against confiscation of passports and overcharging of placement or recruitment fees
  • Protection against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Regulation of recruiters for better protection of workers
  • Right to fair and appropriate remuneration benefits and their right to join trade unions and association

It also serves as a commitment by ASEAN member-states to formulate a plan of action to implement the rights specified. This plan will be made during next year’s meetings under the chairmanship of Singapore.

The creation of the consensus took more than 10 years because parties could not agree on the legal nature of the document, the protection of undocumented workers and the coverage of migrant workers’ families.

Philippines and Indonesia, both source countries, wanted a legally-binding framework. Singapore and Malaysia only wanted the document to be a guide to avoid the increase in the number of undocumented migrants. Both countries are migration hubs for workers.

Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said they opted not to spell out whether or not the document is legally-binding since signatories are already aware of their commitments.

Silence on undocumented workers

Despite being a landmark gain, the consensus was still silent on the issue of undocumented workers. There are around 10 million migrant workers in the region, many of whom are staying in foreign countries without proper papers. Philippine statistics, meanwhile, show that there are around 212,435 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Southeast Asia.

Left-leaning OFW group Migrante said these OFWs are those whose work permits were not renewed or who were forced to leave their employers due to abuse and exploitation.

Migrante also urged ASEAN to create a body that will oversee violations and concerns of the migrant workers, whether as a consultative body or a tribunal.

“Because there is a lack of support mechanisms in both sending and receiving countries, the tendency is always to deport or repatriate victims of abuse and exploitation resulting in the denial of justice and non-persecution of perpetrators,” said the labor organization.

Aside from this commitment, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, the people-centered pillar of the association, also adopted the:

  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Ending All Forms of Malnutrition
  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Anti-Microbial Resistance
  • ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Disaster Health Management
  • ASEAN Declaration on the Gender-Responsive Implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and Sustainable Development Goals
  • ASEAN Declaration on Culture of Prevention for a Peaceful, Inclusive, Resilient, Healthy and Harmonious Society
  • ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change to the UNFCCC COP-23
  • Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security in ASEAN

By: Patty Pasion,

Published on: 14 November 2017

Asean urged to ease rules on workers

Migrants good for growth, report says

The World Bank is urging Asean member countries to ease labour restrictions so migrant workers can earn money overseas to boost welfare and deepen economic integration.

Migration is growing at a faster rate in Asean than within any other region globally, according to one of the bank’s cartoon-filled reports released Monday entitled Migrating to Opportunity.

Between 1995 and 2015, 6.5 million migrants workers in the Asean bloc left their homeland to find better opportunities in neighbouring countries, the report showed.

People from Myanmar, Lao and Cambodia were most likely to head to Thailand while Malaysians and Indonesians tended to venture to Singapore, it said.

Their total remittances in 2015 stood at US$62 billion, accounting for 3% of the value of GDP in Cambodia, 5% in Myanmar or 10% in the Philippines.

Yet the World Bank report states the region could have reaped more benefits if hurdles had been cleared including the high cost of labor mobility, restrictions on workers, and welfare-related problems.

“With the right policy choices, sending countries can reap the economic benefits of out-immigration while protecting their citizens who choose to migrate for work,” said Sudhir Shetty, the World Bank’s chief economist for the East Asia and Pacific Region.

“In receiving countries, foreign workers can fill labour shortages and promote sustainable economic growth if migration policies are aligned with their economic needs,” he added.

“Inappropriate policies and ineffective institutions mean that the region is missing opportunities to gain fully from migration.”

Critics say restrictions lead to costly and lengthy recruitment processes.

“We are talking about more than 10 steps for migrant workers to deal with. We are talking about redundancies of agencies and processes,” said Mauro Testaverde, a World Bank economist and lead author of the report.

“No matter where workers wish to migrate to in Asean, they will face mobility costs several times the annual wage,” he said.

“Improvements in the migration process can ease these costs for prospective migrants and help countries respond better to their labour market needs,” he added.

By reducing the cost of mobility, the report found, welfare could rise 14% for highly skilled workers and 29% overall.

The report suggested some policy changes including more oversight of recruitment agencies and a streamlining of registration processes.

Countries can also learn from one another, for example taking a cue from the Philippines, which has good social support and network systems that help migrant Philippine workers adjust and get better protection when working overseas.

The bilateral agreement between Malaysia and Bangladesh to reduce the cost of mobility is another good example of how illegal migration can be curbed because migrant workers from these countries have no need to use illegal job recruitment agents.

The report suggested Indonesia could streamline its official agencies while Vietnam could promote a better migrant worker policy

Singapore could do more to enhance welfare and help migrant workers assimilate, it said, adding Thailand should formalise undocumented workers and make the entry process cheaper.

Thailand should also improve welfare and protection for migrant workers, the report said.

It also urged governments to change their attitude toward migrant workers.

Mr Shetty said such restrictive policies result from fears that migrant workers steal jobs from locals. In contrast, the report said Thailand’s GDP would drop 0.75% without them.


By: Anchalee Kongrut, Bangkok Post

Published on: 10 October 2017


Immigrants in Taiwan welcome Asean languages programme

LIKE MANY immigrants in Taiwan as well as their children, Manida Tarnsuwan – a 45-year-old woman from Thailand, welcomes the New Southbound Policy.

Initiated by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the policy prescribes educational development for children of new immigrants to be implemented between 2016 and 2020.

“Opportunities I’ve found here make me feel equal, even though I was not born here,” Manida said.

Married to a Taiwanese man and settled in Taiwan, she is also known as Manida Lai.

At present, she has been receiving training on how to serve as an assistant teacher for Thai-language classes.

Starting in 2019, every primary school in Taiwan will include seven Asean languages as elective subjects in response to the New Southbound Policy. The languages are Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Burman, Indonesian, Cambodian and Filipino.

“One in 10 primary students in Taiwan are children of immigrants. We think it necessary to let them learn the mother language of their parents,” Taiwan’s Education Minister Pan Wen- chung  said.

He believed it was also useful for children whose parents were both Taiwanese to learn Asean languages.

Manida said the New Immigrants Learning Center at Zhanghe Junior High School had taught Asean languages for several years already.

Taiwan’s capital Taipei has been home to about 100,000 foreign spouses and children of Taiwanese nationals. The biggest immigrant group is Vietnamese followed by Indonesian, Myanmar and Thai.

Yen-che Gu, senior specialist of the New Taipei City Government, where the New Immigrants Learning Center is located, said the languages would connect children with their ethnic roots.

“If they have opportunities, they may be able to go back to the home country of their parent and contribute to its development,” Gu said.

Wen-Ching Ho, principal of New Taipei Municipal Zhanghe Junior High School, said his school had already started offering |Asean languages as electives.

His school conducts classes for children from kindergarten up to junior secondary education. Students include children of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Indonesian origin, not just those born to Taiwanese couples.

“Of all three Asean-language choices, we began teaching Vietnamese already because we successfully recruited a Vietnamese teacher. She moved to Taiwan after marrying a local man here,” Ho said.

He added that the teacher had also received teacher training from Taiwan’s Education Ministry.

Increased job opportunities

Another Vietnamese woman from Kaohsiung Taiwan said she felt glad the Taiwanese government had offered free teacher training to interested immigrants.

“I have received 36 hours of free training and received a certification to serve as an assistant teacher now. My field is the Vietnamese language,” she said.

The assistant teacher said she was happy children of immigrants had an opportunity to learn the mother languages of their parent and for children of Taiwanese parents to have an opportunity to learn Asean languages.

“If you can speak an Asean language, your job opportunities grow,” she said.

Deng Jin Ti, a Vietnamese woman living in Taiwan, said the government’s Asean-language project had enhanced her status as a teacher of Vietnamese. “Although I can speak Vietnamese fluently, it’s not easy to teach others without training. With the proper training, I have acquired teaching techniques and skills,” she said.

Married to a Taiwanese man for 12 years, she has taught Vietnamese to Taiwanese investors who were interested in expanding their businesses in Vietnam.

Ker-Wei Yu, a professor in the Department of Marine Engineering at the University of Science and Technology of Kaohsiung, said his institute had already trained so many teachers through the Second Generation of New Immigrants Overseas Empowerment programme.

“We have provided training so as to produce teachers for the Asean courses that will start in 2019,” he said.

A schoolboy said he could speak Vietnamese because his mother came from Vietnam.

“If the government will offer Vietnamese language course, I will definitely join the class so that I can learn Vietnamese reading and writing,” he said. “If possible, I will apply for jobs in Vietnam after my graduation.”

Wanpen Huang, who has spent the last 30 years in Taiwan after marrying a Taiwanese man, admitted that she did not teach Thai to her children or grandchildren.

“But if the government offers Thai language courses, I will definitely persuade my grandchildren to enrol,” she said.


By: Chularat Saengpassa, The Nation

Published on: 9 October 2017


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