ASEAN and EU Join Hands for Better Protection of Migrant Workers in Southeast Asia

ASEAN and EU Join Hands for Better Protection of Migrant Workers in Southeast Asia
AVP launch Safe and Fair Migration. (Photo: EUAsean)

The 2nd ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Safe and Fair Labor Migration and the launch of awareness-raising campaign videos for the ASEAN Safe and Fair Migration Campaign brought together over seventy policymakers, practitioners, and representatives of civil society and international organizations. They explored ways to better protect the rights of 7.1 million ASEAN migrants in the region, ensuring their valuable contribution to sustainable economic development.

The audio-visual products (AVPs) of the Public Campaign on Safe and Fair Migration in  ASEAN were developed to equip prospective and current migrant workers with reliable and comprehensive information to help them prepare better for migration and safeguard against exploitation. For more effective outreach, these materials are available in English, Khmer, Bahasa Indonesia, Laotian, Burmese, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

This ASEAN initiative was jointly led by the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and the Department of Labor  and Employment (DOLE) of the Philippines, and supported by the European Union (EU)  through the Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI), and the  International Labor Organization (ILO) through the EU-funded ILO-UN Women “Safe and  Fair” (SAF) program under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.  

In her keynote address, Philippine Migrant Workers Secretary Susan V. Ople noted the crucial role information and education play in the empowerment of millions of migrant workers across the region. “Knowledge is power and it’s very important that they are guided in every step of their journey through these audio-visual presentations that would pass the test of time. It’s very important as well that the voices of our stakeholders are heard.” Secretary Ople added: These pieces of wisdom based on a long history of labor and migration across and beyond ASEAN come together into vivid informational materials that every migrant worker can use, and, if possible, reuse while they journey on to look for ways to improve the economic life of  their families.” 

ASEAN Senior Labor Officials Meeting (SLOM) Chairperson and DOLE Undersecretary  Benedicto Ernesto R. Bitonio emphasized the significance of labor migration in expanding work opportunities of ASEAN people and in enhancing economies of member states: “This mobility fosters regional complementation of resources, spurs growth and development, promotes cultural exchange, and contributes to ASEAN’s vision of shared prosperity. The  recently adopted ASEAN Declaration on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Family  Members in Crisis Situations further seeks to safeguard migrants from abuses they may face.”  He concluded: “The AVPs launched today aim to educate ASEAN citizens about the kind of  labor migration we all want – decent work for migrant workers.” 

Ms. Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, added: With the resumption of post-pandemic labor migration, it is critical that we strengthen information and services to help make migration safe and fair. These videos, supplementing existing education materials, will make a valuable contribution towards decent work and social justice for women and men migrant workers in the ASEAN region and beyond.”  

The 2nd ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Safe and Fair Labor Migration on 7 July 2023 acknowledged that increasing mobility of migrant workers requires a joint response, a continuous improvement on the governance of labor migration, and a strengthening of regional migration measures. The dialogue was an opportunity for officials from ASEAN and the EU to share knowledge and perspectives on effective strategies to support the well-being of migrant workers and their families. 

Migration is a vital component of development, as it contributes to global economic growth and eradicating poverty. With the increasing prominence of migration in our society, there is a  pressing need to prioritize its safety and fairness”, H.E. Igor Driesmans, EU Ambassador to  ASEAN, stated in his remarks.

“The EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership recognizes the complexities associated with this issue and underlines our collective commitment to addressing the common challenges, including through our cooperation to protect and advance the rights of migrant workers. Equally important is the inclusion of voices that are often marginalized in the migration debate, as they can contribute to our policy development,” he added. 

As of 2023, labor migration in the region is reaching pre-pandemic levels. This requires the region’s existing labor mobility management systems to be further developed to maximize migrants’ contribution to the overall socio-economic recovery and growth,” Ms. Sarah Arriola,  International Organization for Migration (IOM) Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific,  explained. “It is encouraging to see that governments in the region have taken important steps to improve migration governance,” she complimented. 

The 2nd ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Safe and Fair Labor Migration and the launch of awareness-raising campaign videos for the ASEAN Safe and Fair Migration Campaign were part of an  ASEAN Senior Labor Officials’ Workshop on the Mid-Term Review and Strategic Planning of the ASEAN Labor Ministers’ 5-year Work Program 2021-2025, in Boracay, Philippines from 4 to 7 July 2023. The entire program was supported by the EU through E-READI; ILO,  IOM, and the ASEAN Secretariat.