HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States

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  The unprecedented economic growth and social and economic inequalities that Asia is experiencing combine to create complex  push and pull factors that have led to large movements of people in the region.  At any given point in time, there are an estimated 54 million people on the move outside of their home countries within Asia and beyond, and almost half that number, are estimated to be women. Asia is one of the largest suppliers of international migrant women who serve as domestic workers.

Outside Asia, the countries of the Arab States region are the primary destination for a majority of migrant workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The economic gains generated by migrant workers to both countries of origin and host countries are considerable reaching almost 8% of GDP in Sri Lanka and as high as 17% of the national GDP in the Philippines.  Yet, there is a major disconnect between the economic contribution of migrant workers and the poor conditions and meager support many receive throughout their migration journey.

A key issue of concern with cross border and overseas migration is HIV and AIDS. In recent years, an increasing number of migrant workers from Asia have been diagnosed with HIV in various countries in the Arab States. Deportations due to HIV status have resulted in severe economic loss for migrant workers and their families, who have been declared by local authorities as "unfit" to work abroad.

Governments from Asian countries have also been concerned about this issue. The Ministers of Health from the Governments of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh called for a meeting on the issue at the time of the World Health Assembly of 2007 highlighting the need to engage in inter regional dialogue with countries from the Arab States region to find ways to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities to HIV that migrant workers face..


  The purpose of this study was commissioned to shed light on the complex relationship between migration and HIV vulnerability, with a special focus on the vulnerabilities faced by Asian migrant women.

Through in-depth and focus group discussions, the study discloses the vulnerabilities that Asian migrant women encounter throughout the migration cycle. They often leave for overseas work under unsafe conditions, live in very difficult circumstances, and are often targets of sexual exploitation and violence before they depart, during their transit and stay in host countries and on return to their countries of origin. With little or no access to health services and social protection, these factors combine to make Asian women migrants highly vulnerable to HIV.

Confronted with inadequate policies and legislation that are not enforceable in host countries, migrant women often have limited or no access to justice and redress mechanisms, especially in Gulf countries. If they are found HIV positive, they face deportation and back in their countries of origin they experience discrimination and social isolation in addition to the difficulty of finding alternative livelihoods.

  As the research shows, there are several good practices from both countries of origin  and host countries that are making a difference to migrant's lives, from the bilateral agreements negotiated between the Philippines and host countries, to social protection afforded to migrants in Lebanon. It is the intention of this study to highlight emerging good practice, deepen our understanding of the linkages between HIV and migration to inform and shape more effective policy and programme responses for Asian migrant women that will ensure safe mobility with dignity, equity and justice.

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Organization: CARAM ASIA