Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sri Lankan Migrant Workers and HIV

Weekend Column for Migrants Workers
By Lakshan Dias

Sri Lanka is a significant provider to the world’s migrant workers population with similar percentages such as Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Mexico etc. Sri Lankan Percentage of Migrant workers are significant as its almost 2 million (1.6 Million registered and many more undocumented workers ) and is 2% from the entire Migrating population of the world. This is not a coincident but in an era of globalization, economic or labour migration is on the rise. Due to lack of employment opportunities in developing countries and increased demands for low-wage workers in developed countries, youth, women and men are pursuing work in other countries in order to support themselves and their families back home. Patterns of International movement people forcing the poor in Global south to migrate towards developed countries for better future.

ILO reports that “1. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that out of approximately 175 million migrants around the world, half of them are workers. Migrant workers not only contribute to the economies of their host countries, and the remittances* they send home augment their home economies. The ILO reports that remittances figured $223 billion in 2005, more than twice the level of international aid. “ The Poor who migrate to other countries are not sophisticated and as well as they are not very much aware of the issues and circumstances that they are potential to under go while they are involved in their what ever profession. In the same report its says that 2. ” Philippines Migrant Filipina domestic workers are employed in over 130 countries and provide care for children and the elderly in families, or sex work and companionship for men in rich Western and Asian countries.”

The above signals indicated that the Migrant workers are not only involved in domestic work or construction work but face various other realities, abuses and forces condition where they have no other options. This article is not to examine the morality of these realities or investigate to find out culprits behind this but to indicate the realities of the situation they have to live. These migrant workers are from the very poor and most of them were not engaged in proper education. The pre departure trainings that government imposed are not adhered by all the workers as well as such a training is not possible for the economically poor potential migrant workers. These trainings are not practically accessible for those who are in remote parts of the country which is the majority of migrant workers and therefore some agents have their own scams to provide bogus trainings.

1. Migration and Globalisation ILO
2. Migration and Globalisation ILO

I don’t reject the importance of pre departure training that government provide but practically the poor doesn’t have practical opportunities to get the training due to various inabilities as these training centers are mainly far away form their native areas and they have no finances to travel that far to simply get a certificate where they find not relevant. This has created a vacuum in the pre departure orientation and vulnerable situation where poor migrant workers are being exposed to dangers and abuses.

HIV as a Potential Threat for Migrant Workers

In Sri Lankan sexual patterns still a hidden subject where people don’t discuss openly and with full of myths. Sexual behavior is more open and marriage is not a very serious bound in Sri Lankan sexual patterns and behaviors , as well as polygamist patterns and multi sexual partners are common realities of the country. I don’t see these family morals or religious values can do a lot or can stop the dangers that created by HIV/AIDS. But it can be easily manage by awareness and orientations that educate the danger of HIV. In many cases Sri Lankan Migrant workers are landing to an alien country with out proper knowledge and with out any orientation of culture or language. Many Psycho-social needs compelled many migrant workers to find companions of same sex or opposite sex to share and release their burdens as well as towards a closer relationships.

In a mixed and highly globalizes world the sexual patterns and sexually transmitted deceases also rapidly exchanged among each other where some of these uneducated migrant workers highly potential to transmitted with deceases such as HIV / AIDS. If HIV is a decease similar STD the trauma can be ignored but a the deadly nature of the decease will destroyed the entire economy of many poor migrant workers and bring havoc to their families as our societies still do not willing accept those who are positive. At least their families. Migration is not the only mean of HIV transmission but it provide a large space for transmission. The future of such families are not very bright and at the moment some of them are in utter poor and helpless situations.

Health ministers from South and Southeast Asian countries convened during the 2009 World Health Assembly to tackle the growing problem of HIV risks among migrant workers. Ministers from Pakistan, China, Thailand, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as representatives from the International Labor Organization, International Organization for Migration, World Health Organization and UNAIDS were present in the meeting, which was a follow up of the 2007 World Health Assembly in Geneva. Health ministers shared experiences and issues on reducing the vulnerability of migrant workers to HIV before they are deployed to their destination countries. The billion dollar question is why Sri Lanka is not part of the meeting. Many think Sri Lanka is a low prevalence country. In my opinion its a kind of huge myth that we are living with where we are in the volcano near to erupt. I was in Bangladesh and them also going through the same myth where they also claiming that they have only 5000 HIV positives from nearly 16 million populations. But the bordering India has 8 – 10 Million HIV positive people are living. We can have our own dreams but there is large number of undocumented HIV patients living in Sri Lankan according to the Organizations working with HIV. Almost all the HIV positive people in my life I met with were either Migrant Workers or family members. Large stake of Sri Lankan HIV population are either ex-Migrant workers or those who are working as Migrant Workers. Numbers can be over 2000 from the Identified 5000 HIV Positive People in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately SLBFE doesn’t have any programme to tackle this issues or awareness rising among Migrant workers except for their trainings. There is no proper plans to those who infected already they are also Migrant workers even though they are infected with HIV or PLWHA.

The Migrant worker came to me shared that the infected HIV due to his sexual behavior in his host country with various nationals. His story was pathetic and he lost every thing he earned as a migrant worker and no body accept him and he is living in hidden. I know that how Sri Lankan Migrant workers involved in relationships with various national as I was part of Migrant workers over 5 years and also know that its in evitable to stop such relationships. I have no issues and not I am morally objecting relationships but concern over the vulnerability to transmit HIV. As far as I believe this is mainly due to ignorance and poor orientation from the state. State doesn’t have a proper awareness plans in the air port or SLBFE level where Migrant workers are instructed to have safe sex or use condoms as safety method. There is no volunteer HIV testing scheme or screening facilities at the air port. The PLWHA who I met shared with me that he infected with HIV three months after his marriage and his host country expelled him his illness without telling him reasons but a report in his hand. His wife was fortunate to prevent her self as she was insist on medical report he carried as well as he was sincere to not to infected his wife.

We have to seriously get involved in awareness rising as we cannot be this low prevalence while our neighbor has over 8 Million. We need to wake up from our dreams. Our Migrant workers are potential for infected with HIV as economic recession in many countries is cutting jobs and a growing commercial sex industry can be the obvious alternative. Singapore and Cyprus are such hot pots for trafficking of women disguise as migrant works.

Mainly our Migrant workers need to be aware of Safety methods and Male or female condoms. Our diplomats and missions needs to have special awareness programmes to deal with the issues. SANRIM at the moment provide Legal Aid for Migrant Workers affected with HIV to obtain their Rights. The needs are gigantic and more and more NGOs and State needs to seriously consider on how to deal with the issues related to the Migrant workers and HIV. Otherwise we will be late when we realize the real size of the Issues.

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