Subject: [fem-women2000 693] FWD: WCAR: Speaking out: Migrant workers demand to be heard
From: Makoto TERANAKA <>
Date: Mon, 03 Sep 2001 19:11:42 +0900
Seq: 693

Forward to

Date: Sat, 01 Sep 2001 16:17:28 +0800
>From: Kathy Clarin <>

Speaking out: Migrant workers demand to be heard

Migrant workers were given a chance to testify to the problems they face 
when working in foreign countries during a discussion held at the NGO Forum 
on the World Conference Against Racism.

Migrant workers form a large part of the working population in many Asian 
countries. In Hong Kong, for example, there are over 200,000 foreign 
domestic workers. In Malaysia, migrant workers populate the factories, 
clean the streets and work in people's homes, often doing the jobs no one 
else will handle. But, according to Irene Fernandez, who chaired the 
meeting, this contribution is often marginalised or completely overlooked.

Irene is the director of a Malaysian NGO, Tenaganita, and is currently 
undergoing a trial for spreading false news, after releasing statements on 
the living conditions in detention camps for illegal immigrants. She showed 
compelling video testimony from a worker identified only as Babu.

Babu worked in Bangladesh, doing a variety of jobs, including writing 
articles for newspapers. He supported his family and wanted better for them 
and for himself. He was approached by an acquaintance, an agent for an 
employment agency, who told him how he would be able to make money in 
Malaysia. Babu decided that he would take the gamble. His mother sold the 
property she had inherited so that Babu would be able to pay his way. An 
agency arranged for the documents and tickets, assuring him all would be 
well and that he would, upon arrival, be working in a hotel.

When Babu reached Malaysia, he found that he had been 'sold', as Irene 
explained, to a construction company. In tapes he sent home to his mother, 
he explained how gruelling the labour was, how he lived in fear of the 
police and how he was trapped, earning little and unable to pay his mother 
back for her investment in him.

His mother and sister worried. They tried to approach the agency who had 
sent Babu to Malaysia, but the agent refused to listen to their queries. He 
was never in when they called. Eventually, Babu's mother was shown a 
ticket, saying her son would return the following Monday. The family spent 
the weekend preparing Babu's favourite meals. But Babu did not come home on 
the plane as promised.

Babu came home a corpse.

He died while in a detention camp in Malaysia.

Babu's ordeal in Malaysia was extreme, but violence and human rights 
violations of migrant workers are widespread. Domestic workers are 
particularly susceptible to abuse, working in their employers' homes and on 
call 24 hours a day.

Kasnah Binti Seda Karman was in tears, barely able to choke out her 
testimony. She related a life of continuous work and humiliation in Saudi 
Arabia. Kasnah left her home in Indonesia to work for money to put her two 
children through school. Although her employers forced her to work from 4am 
to 12am, with two meals of bread and tea daily, Kasnah said that to begin 
with they treated her well. After three months, however, this changed.

"They bashed my head against the wall, once they crushed my hand with a 
steel chair," she said. In a written testimony that was read out, after 
Kasnah became too overwrought to continue, she said that her ears would 
bleed, that she would shake from hunger, and that she suffered from dizzy 

When she left due to this maltreatment, she was paid a fraction of what she 
had been promised.

However, the issue of the mistreatment of migrant workers has roots in both 
the home and the host country. Divina Carreon Garcia from the Philippines 
was a domestic worker in Hong Kong.

"The Filipino government exports people like they are products. I was one 
of them. Our government's policies do not meet the economic needs of the 
people, leading to forced migration. Our people are being sold like 
products, just for high profits."

Migrant workers are at the World Conference Against Racism to try and halt 
the culture of denial that has built up around their problems. Divina has 
helped found the Federation of Returning Migrants and Their Families, to 
combat racism faced by returning Filipinas.

She explained, "We are organising people to break the silence that has 
built up over long years, encouraging them to fight for their rights and 

There are a number of groups championing migrant worker rights at the WCAR 
NGO Forum, acronyms such as DAWN, names such as Solidaritas Perempuan. They 
are hoping, at Durban, to find a space where governments will be forced to 
hear the voices of this marginalised community.

Sonia Randhawa is a Malaysian journalist with Radiq Radio, a web-based news 
service. She a member of the WCAR Women's Media Team of ISIS 

 _________________________________________________________________________ for Women 2000, UN Special Session on Beijing+5
 Searcheable Archive
 visit fem-net HomePage for other mailing lists

Return to Index
Return to fem-women2000 HOME