MMN at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2017, 2-4 November 2018, Singapore

MMN at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2017, 2-4 November 2018, Singapore

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2018 took place in Singapore from 2-4 November 2018 with the participation of more than 200 people coming from 11 Southeast Asian countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam and regional civil society groups. The overarching theme of this year was “Empowering Peoples’ Solidarity Against All Forms of Discrimination” in Southeast Asia, with thematic “convergence spaces” on: Just and Sustainable Development; Safe Movement of Migrants; Life with Dignity; Peace and Security; Human Rights and Access to Justice; and Against All Forms of Discrimination. For more information about ACSC/APF 2018, please visit: https://www.acscapf2018.org.

On 3 November 2018, the second day of the APF/ACSC, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised a workshop titled: “Examining the impact of social exclusion on ASEAN migrants” under the convergence space on Safe Movement of Migrants in collaboration with MMN members and partner organisations, including Future Light Center (FLC) from Myanmar, Foundation for Education and Development (FED) from Thailand, and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) from Singapore. More than 20 participants attended the workshop. The main objectives of the workshop were: (i) to generate critical discussion on the underlying factors, including discriminatory policies and practices of both countries of origin and destination, leading to the social exclusion of migrants across the region, and (ii) to provide a space for participants to jointly strategise and develop recommendations that renounce all forms of discrimination, promote the social inclusion and empowerment of all migrants, and build solidarity amongst migrants’ rights advocates across countries in ASEAN. The workshop commenced with a MMN Multimedia presentation titled: “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants”, which was followed by a panel discussion involving Mr. John Gee (TWC2), Ms. Thet Thet Aung (FLC), and Ms. Ei Ei Chaw (FED).

In his presentation, Mr. John Gee (TWC2) pointed out the impacts of the Myanmar government’s migration ban on domestic workers heading for Singapore, which had been imposed since 2014 and reaffirmed in 2015. Despite the ban, a significant number of women continue to leave Myanmar to work as domestic workers in Singapore, while recruitment agencies in Singapore continue to advertise for domestic workers from Myanmar. Myanmar women are much more likely to come to Singapore via irregular routes, which reduces their chances of obtaining information on the legal scope of their work, their rights, and the sources of help and counsel in the destination country. Due to their irregular status, many women are further discouraged from seeking help from their embassy in the event that they experience abuse or are subjected to bad employment conditions. Rather than protecting Myanmar domestic workers, therefore, the ban makes this group of women more vulnerable to abuse. Among different groups of domestic workers in Singapore, those from Myanmar are, as a result, most likely to face abuse, the lowest paid, and the least likely to have days off. In the long run, development within countries of origin is crucial in eliminating abuse and making migration for work a real matter of choice. Mr. Gee concluded his talk by emphasising the role of countries of origin in protecting and respecting the rights of their nationals working overseas, providing overseas assistance more effectively in destination countries, and making migration for work “a real matter of choice”.

Following Mr. Gee’s discussion, Ms. Thet Thet Aung (FLC) presented on issues relating to Myanmar migrants before deployment and upon return. Myanmar women head to Singapore to work as domestic workers with the hopes of overcoming poverty, at times paying up to six months of their salary to brokers or other intermediaries to pursue their dreams of working in Singapore. However, a number of them lack or find it difficult to obtain information before deployment, especially on the channels of assistance in the event that they are abused or face other issues. Upon return, they also cannot access any kinds of assistance because they migrated in spite of the ban and are made legally liable. After bringing to light the plights of Myanmar domestic workers, Ms. Thet Thet Aung shared some grass-roots initiatives of her organisation in supporting migrant workers.

Ms. Ei Ei Chaw’s (FED) presentation focused on the vulnerabilities of migrant workers that have emerged owing to the constant changes in Thailand’s policies. She explained that the process migrants have to go through to apply for work permits in Thailand is lengthy, expensive and often impeded by bureaucratic requirements. Furthermore, many migrant workers do not enjoy a decent wage and decent work, as they are often paid twenty-five percent less than the minimum wage and work under unsafe and harsh conditions. Ms. Ei Ei Chaw also pointed out that child labour remains an issue in Thailand. With regards to social protection, migrant workers face many challenges in accessing social security programmes. In light of the difficulties many migrant workers face, FED has come up with different programmes to support migrant workers in Thailand, such as raising awareness among them, providing legal support, and advocating for their rights.

The workshop ended with open discussion from the floor and participants developing joint recommendations. These recommendations mainly called for ASEAN member states to collaborate with each other and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations, to protect and promote migrants’ human rights and their communities; and their welfare in destination countries and origin countries without discrimination. Two of the six key recommendations include:

no.4. Bans on migration must be evaluated and assessed before being imposed and they need to be in line with migration policies and enforcement for safe migration; and

no.6. Mutual portability of social protection including healthcare, child education and welfare amongst ASEAN member states should be developed to ensure the inclusion of ASEAN peoples;

The MMN secretariat submitted the recommendations from the workshop to the Local Organising Committee (LOC), all of which were adopted in the ACSC/APF 2018  Statement (jointly discussed and developed on 4 November 2018) under the section of “Ensuring the Safe Movement of Migrants(recommendations 2 to 7).

Presentation and pictures of MMN’s workshop and delegates’ activities can be accessed from this link.

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