Migrant Workers in Latin America
Table of Contents
Women Migrant Workers by UNIFEM
Globalization has contributed to an increasing flow of migrant workers from countries with limited economic opportunities to fill gaps in nations with a dwindling labour supply. While globalization may foster the acceleration of trade and investment, it does not create an environment that protects migrant workers’ economic, social and physical security. This is even more so when it comes to women migrant workers, whose numbers have been increasing, now constituting 50 percent or more of the migrant workforce in Asia and Latin America.
By creating new economic opportunities, migration can promote economic independence and status for women workers, who provide safety nets that sustain communities at home. Studies indicate that migrant women workers contribute to the development of both sending and receiving countries — remittances from their incomes account for as much as 10 percent of the GDP in some countries. In 2008, remittances were estimated by the World Bank at US$305 billion. These monetary investments — used for food, housing, education and medical services — along with newly acquired skills of returnees, can potentially contribute significantly to poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals.
Yet, while migration can bring new employment and opportunities, it also bears great risks for women, many of whom end up at the lower end of the job market. Female migrants often work as domestic workers and entertainers — a euphemism for sex workers — in unregulated informal sectors that do not fall under national labour laws. Migrant women routinely lack access to social services and legal protection and are subjected to abuses such as harsh working and living conditions, low wages, illegal withholding of wages and premature termination of employment. The worst abuses force women into sexual slavery. http://www.unifem.org/gender_issues/women_poverty_economics/women_migrant_workers.php
Migrant workers in Latin America
Richard Lapper for the Financial Times explains that migrant workers sent back more than $62.3bn to their families in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, a rise of 14 per cent on 2005.
The figures, to be released in March 2007 at the annual conference of the Inter-American Development Bank, confirm that remittances have become one of the region’s most important sources of foreign exchange. For the fourth successive year they will exceed the combined flows of foreign direct investment and overseas aid into the region.
Mexico (with a total of $23bn), Brazil ($7bn) and Colombia ($4bn) receive most remittances, but the flows are especially beneficial for the poorer and more marginal countries of Central America and the Caribbean, where they account for more than 10 per cent of GDP in many cases.
Don Terry, head of the Multilateral Investment Fund, the IDB agency that monitors the flows, argues that as 8m-10m families “would be below the poverty line” without the remittances.
Historically, remitted earnings have typically been sent back by such informal – and less efficient – channels. But the IDB, along with governments and multilateral agencies, have been keen to push these savings through banks and money transfer agencies, partly in order to increase the chances that they can be channelled into small businesses and other investments.
Mr Terry said he was concerned that this trend may reverse: “More money is being carried by hand again. We are going back to the future.”
This could undercut efforts to channel more money towards investment. The IDB estimates that between 20 and 25 per cent of remittances are available for uses other than consumption and has been trying to encourage banks to offer migrants and their families products such as small loans, life and health insurance, and home mortgages.
About three-quarters of the remittances sent to Latin America originate in the US, with Western Europe, especially Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, accounting for about 15 per cent of the market. Other large flows come from Japan to Brazil and Peru; and from Canada to Jamaica and Haiti.http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f94e4d5c-d32b-11db-829f-000b5df10621.html#axzz1STU6gZNf
Work Conditions and Risks
Forms of violence
Several Member States, including Colombia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Thailand and Ukraine, reported the existence of trafficking in women and girls. Italy stated that sexual exploitation of victims of trafficking was a form of violence against women migrant workers. Ukraine noted that violence against women was closely linked to trafficking in persons and illegal migration and that these phenomena were assuming a threatening scale throughout the region.
El Salvador reported that it was common for people who took the risk of illegal migration to the United States to use the services of traffickers. In most cases, such would-be migrants were ill-treated along the way, detained by border patrols and, in the worst cases, died. Most of the recorded cases involved women seeking passage to the United States, where, in addition to paying huge sums of money to traffickers, they were subjected to sexual abuse. Spain reported that there had been an increase in illegal migrant women forced to engage in prostitution in order to pay debts related to the costs of transport into the country.
During her visit to the border between Mexico and the United States, the Special Rapporteur was informed that trafficking in migrants was reaching serious proportions. Many of the victims were women from the poorest parts of Mexico who had been promised work as nannies or house maids in the United States. The Special Rapporteur received information about trafficking networks that recruited migrants on false pretences to work in conditions approaching slave labor in farms or in factories in the United States. In the report on her visit to Mexico, the Special Rapporteur described the situation of vulnerability of migrants to extortion, ill-treatment and sexual abuse by criminal gangs and smugglers. She also received complaints about the alleged involvement of a number of migration officials and/or police officers in such abuses.
In Mexico, the National Institute for Migration had developed strategies on compliance with the human rights of migrants, with special emphasis on preventing abuse of women or minors for dissemination by the mass media. The Mexican Communities Abroad Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and various departments of the educational sectors and their counterparts in the United States, coordinated programs including programs on education for migrant Mexican children, youth and adults.
Bilateral and international cooperation
Mexico reported that it had signed bilateral agreements with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service in order to guarantee an orderly and safe repatriation of Mexican women and girls from the United States. Qatar had concluded a number of bilateral agreements with countries of origin of migrant workers in an effort to regulate the employment of such workers. The stipulation of bilateral agreements on matters related to migration was also reported by Austria, El Salvador, Thailand and Ukraine.http://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/policy_and_research/un/58/A_58_161_en.pdf.
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