Thursday, November 7, 2013


Implementation of the 5th AFML Recommendations

by Fr. Graziano Battistella, SMC


Migration in ASEAN

Using a traditional framework, ASEAN is comprised of 6 countries of origin and four countries of destination of migrants, mostly migrant workers. Using a systemic approach, (and ignoring Brunei because of the small number of migrants involved) it could be said that the region is characterized by four main migration subsystems, where Thailand is the center for a periphery involving Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos; Singapore is the center for an inflow of migrants from traditional sources (mainly Malaysia) and from other countries of Chinese and non-Chinese origin; peninsular Malaysia is the center for migration from Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam; and Sabah is the focus for migration from the Philippines and Indonesia. Three main observations can be made in regard to migration in the region:

1) Migration is important for the countries of origin, like Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, because they have the ASEAN region as their main destinations. However, it is not very important for the Philippines (leaving the case of Sabah aside), which utilizes only Singapore as a major destination within ASEAN. In fact, the number of Filipino migrants within ASEAN is only around 300,000 (according to CFO estimates, excluding Sabah). Migration is even more important for destination countries, particularly Singapore and Malaysia, which have a high percentage of foreign labor force. Therefore, the migration discourse within ASEAN cannot be ignored and, paradoxically, the country which most contributes to this discourse – the Philippines – is the one with the smallest interest in it.

2) Countries of destination, while relying heavily on migrant labor, intend to reduce it. In particular, Singapore and Malaysia are inclined to increase highly skilled labor and decrease unskilled labor. Countries of origin also would like to increase the deployment of skilled workers. However, the supply of unskilled labor in the region is very large and the possibilities to find employment either in the service or the informal sector are very high. Convergence of interests among ASEAN countries needs to be clarified, for a more effective governance approach.

3) Migration is disproportionately characterized by irregularity. Irregular migrants are over one million in Thailand and over one million in Malaysia. Irregularity has been persistent from the 1980s and 1990s and all regularization efforts have proven ineffective. This means that to some extent it is endemic and perhaps accepted. Even in the case of the Philippines, half of the Filipinos in ASEAN countries are considered in an irregular situation, although the data is affected mostly by the reality in Sabah. It is not possible to ignore the irregularity aspect in a dialogue on migration within ASEAN.

Before suggesting recommendations within the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labor (AFML) it is important to consider this overall context.

Recommendations from the 5th AFML

Recommendations formulated in the 5th Asean Forum on Migrant Labour embraced the migration process in a comprehensive way, emphasizing many components that need to be present in the governance of migration, from the human rights approach to the transparency and accountability of procedures, the sharing of information, effective monitoring and partnership. Behind the many formulations, it is evident that a major objective was the improvement of the recruitment process, which is traditionally considered a problematic aspect in the migration cycle. The other objective was to obtain better services for migrants from government agencies responsible for handling migrant affairs, in particular by reducing the cost of migration.

It is not simple to monitor the actual implementation of the recommendations because of two reasons:

1) many recommendations are formulated in UN-ese language: they are politically correct, but they are extremely generic.

2) recommendations are somehow decontextualized. Although formulated for the ASEAN context, they could have actually been written in another region of the world, with not much difference.

The role of civil society

Considering the five areas of the 5th AFML, and what civil society has done in the past two years, the following can be mentioned:

1) The World Social Forum on Migration held at the Miriam College in Quezon City was a big event, organized through the leadership of MFA and with the cooperation of other civil society organizations. It attracted several hundred delegates from all over the world who came to discuss migration, its current issues, and look for alternatives. It was an occasion to expose to the whole world the reality of Asian migration.

2) In the area of human rights, civil society in the Philippines was active in the ratification of ILO Convention 189 and the adoption of the Kasambahay Bill. In terms of spreading information on the rights of migrants, the PMRW has printed a series of posters and is preparing a guide booklet to be used when presenting the posters in schools. Booklets will be prepared to present in a summarized and illustrated form the rights of migrants to be given to the migrants themselves so that they know their entitlements.

3) In the area of increasing transparency, civil society has participated in the consultation organized by POEA for the preparation of the new Rules and Regulations.

4) In regard to information sharing, several research and publications have been done recently. First is the Country Migration Report: The Philippines 2013 organized by IOM and implemented by the Scalabrini Migration Center. SMC also published the Asian Migration Outlook 2012. Both reports are available in the Internet. Additional research was done in regard to the pre-departure orientation seminars, youth employment and migration and the phenomenon of brain drain – brain waste.

5) With regard to the meaningful involvement of stakeholders (someone should explain what “meaningful involvement” means) the Overseas Landbased Tripartite Consultative Council was created and civil society is proud to say that it was a development of the Consultative Council on Overseas Filipino Workers, initiated more than ten years ago by civil society in dialogue with the then Secretary of labor.

What to bring to Brunei

Two are the focal aspects to be taken up in the AFML in Brunei: 

1) Data. The Scalabrini Migration Center, with ILO support, has begun in 2007 the Migration Information System in Asia (MISA). It was agreed that ILO would continue this effort within the ASEAN region, ensuring the cooperation of the member governments for a regional database on migration.

2) Legal issues, judicial system and system of complaint mechanism. The suggestion is to consider the UN Migrant Workers Convention as a base to be adapted to the ASEAN context. In particular, arts. 16 to 24 of the convention already contain a comprehensive formulation of judicial safeguards applicable to migrants.

3) Review of previous issues. The concept of regional integration should be taken seriously and extended to the circulation of labor within the region. Perhaps it is too early to advocate for the free circulation of labor (although it should be considered an objective of ASEAN), but some obstacle to that circulation should be eliminated:

a) deployment of migrants within the region should take place without placement fees. Employers should pay for the services provided by recruitment agencies in finding the personnel they need. Likewise, employers should not be charged levies for the employment of migrants, because those levies are actual tariffs on the circulation of labor.

b) some deployment of labor within the region should be handled through government-to-government agreements.

The importance of the regional approach

There are many initiatives occurring on migration in the world, in the regions and in sub regions. The regional approach has a better chance to achieve concrete results, because there are implementing and monitoring mechanisms, although not very strong yet, to oversee it. ASEAN is an area where the Philippine leadership in the migration discourse can make some progress. However, instead of generic recommendations, instruments and guidelines are needed.

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