A report by UNDP says that Asian women migrant workers in the Arab states face increasing HIV vulnerability. The report focuses on the working conditions of these workers in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers head to the Arab states from Asian countries mainly from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Pakistan. A significant majority of these are women. And a large number of them are employed as domestic workers. These women make a significant contribution to their home country's economy by sending remittances. For example, remittances from Filipinos working in the Arab States in 2007 amounted to $2.17 billion. In Bangladesh, migrant workers sent back close to $1.4 billion from Saudi Arabia and $637 million from the UAE. Current remittances by migrant workers from Sri Lanka amount to $3 billion.
The report says that despite this substantial contribution, migrant workers, especially women, often migrate under unsafe conditions, live in very difficult circumstances, and are targets of sexual exploitation and violence. "Unsafe migration, duress in the workplace, sexual exploitation (both in the home and host country), lack of legal coverage, and limited or no access to health and social services tend to make female migrants, especially in the domestic sector, particularly vulnerable to HIV," says the report.
And when these workers are tested positive for HIV in the host country, they are simply deported back to their home country. As a result, the number of HIV cases are rising in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are otherwise low HIV prevalence countries. The report says that returning migrant workers often figure in the national HIV registry of these countries.
The report has recommended a number of steps that the host countries as well as the origin countries should take to prevent the abuse of migrant workers in general and spread of HIV in particular. If the Arab states don't take preventive measures to stop the abuse of foreign workers, they may see supply of cheap labour drying up in near future. For example, the Philippines has banned its workers from traveling to Iraq and Lebanon.
The origin countries need to take measures including bilateral agreements and education of their workers to prevent an HIV epidemic which can be catastrophic for their feeble economies.