Migrant Forum in Asia
Telefax: +632.8277.9484 | Mobile: +63.921.540.5063
Email: mfa@mfasia.org | Website: www.mfasia.org

Migrant Rights are Human Rights!

MFA Statement on International Human Rights Day, 2010


December 10th marks International Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  On this important day, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) calls for the recognition of the rights, struggles, and contributions of all migrants, regardless of their status. 

Over 214 million people worldwide are migrants who live, work, raise families, and make significant contributions to both their host countries and their countries of origin.  Regardless of their legal status, migrants have overcome immense personal challenges, fuelling economies and supporting social and cultural development. 

Yet, despite acknowledging the important contributions of migrants, emerging policies of governments and international organizations contravene the fundamental human rights of migrant workers creating an environment that is inhospitable to those who cross borders for work.  Such policies serve to create the conditions of ‘illegality’ and vulnerability that these migrants face daily.

No Human Being is Illegal

Reaffirming Resolution 3499 of the UN General Assembly (1975), MFA calls on all governments to affirm that no human being is illegal.  Regardless of their immigration status or nationality, all migrants have inalienable human rights that states are required to respect and uphold in the exercise of their sovereignty and stewardship over all who reside within their geographical jurisdiction.

Neoliberal globalization has led to an insatiable demand for cheap, flexible, exploitable labour — a demand entrenched through discriminatory and restrictive (im)migration policies and temporary work permit regimes – and supplied by the loss of livelihoods and employment opportunities in sending countries which creates the conditions for mass migration and vulnerable and irregular situations.

Migrants with irregular status are among the most vulnerable workers in the world.  They are directly denied their inalienable human rights.  They are at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation at every stage of the migration process, and employers often use these threats to exploit them through non-payment of wages and poor working and living conditions.  Their legal status exacerbates the marginalization, discrimination, and oppression that they face, and results in abuse, violence, and exploitation. 

Current regulatory frameworks favour the criminalization of irregular migrants over a rights-based approach that would acknowledge and uphold their fundamental human rights.  This emphasis placed on criminalization and national security prevents the realization of their rights and disregards the complex causes of irregular migration.

Stop the Crackdown!

Over the past year, crackdowns on irregular migrants, accompanied by mass deportations have taken place across Asia.  MFA decries these crackdowns and strongly urges governments to invoke rights-based responses that respect the rights of all migrant workers.

Malaysia – On March 28 2010, Amnesty International reported that authorities had arrested 140 irregular migrant workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Nepal as part of a crackdown that has seen hundreds of workers arrested and detained.  Raids targeting migrants are indiscriminate, sweeping up documented and undocumented migrants alike and subjecting them to protracted detention in overcrowded and unsanitary prison conditions, substantial fines, and in some cases, caning.

Dubai – As reported by GulfNews on April 21 2010, police instituted a crackdown in which over 10,000 irregular migrants were arrested.  The justification for this crackdown was based on the false conflation of irregular migrants with criminal activity – those without legal status were said to be direct threats to the community.

Oman – As reported by the Deccan Chronicle on April 22 2010, a move to deport visa overstayers resulted in the registration of more than 21,000 irregular migrants slated for deportation to India.  Thousands more have been registered for mass deportation to Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

Korea – On May 6 2010, the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union reported that the Korean government had instituted a ‘G-20 Preemptive Response’, wherein irregular migrants were provided with a 2-week period for voluntary departure, and during which employers were provided with incentives to surrender any undocumented workers under their employ.  Arrest, detention, and heavy fines were imposed on the non-compliant.  Government and media statements linking migrants with crime add to the misrepresentation of migrants as criminals.  On October 29th, Trinh Cong Quan, a 35-year old Vietnamese migrant worker, tragically lost his life fleeing from a surprise immigration raid at his workplace.  Attempting to escape through a window, he fell to his death.

On this 2010 International Human Rights Day, MFA calls on governments to…

•    Reaffirm the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that everyone, regardless of their race or national origin, are born free and equal in dignity and rights;

•    Ratify the UN Migrant Workers’ Convention and implement its provisions in national laws in order to protect and promote the rights of all migrant workers, regardless of their legal status;

•    Stop the crackdown on irregular migrants, including detentions and forcible return, and work towards transparent, rights-based national migration strategies;

•    Ratify and implement the core ILO conventions (Cs 97, 143, and 181) ensuring non-discrimination in the equal access to the indivisible human rights of all migrant workers;

•    Focus interventions on the structural factors that contribute to the exploitation of migrants in irregular situations, rather than on the migrants themselves;

•    Take action to end all forms of discrimination against migrant workers because of, but not limited to, race, religion, class, gender, age, and status.

MFA calls on people everywhere to commemorate the many and important contributions that migrant workers make to our societies, and to join the struggle to protect and promote the rights and welfare of all migrant workers worldwide. 


MFA is a regional network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), associations, and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia that are committed to the protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of migrant workers. We believe in the human rights and dignity of all migrants,  irrespective of race, gender,class, age, religious belief, and status.

For more information, please contact the MFA Secretariat:

Mr. William Gois
Regional Coordinator

85 C Masikap Extension, Central District
Quezon City 1100 Philippines
Telefax: +63 2 4333508
Phone:  +63 2 928-2740
MFA Mobile: +63 921 540 5063
E-mail: mfa@pacific.net.hk

About Us

MFA is a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers.

It is guided by a vision of an alternative world system based on respect for human rights and dignity, social justice, and gender equity, particularly for migrant workers.

Regional Secretariat

25 Matiyaga Street,
Central District, Diliman,
Quezon City 1100

Phone: +63-2-8277-9484
Mobile: +639215405063

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