No one should have to surrender their human right to migrate in order to find a living wage, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said in a report highlighting the importance of temporary migratory labour programmes.

The report, “We wanted workers, but human beings came,” coincided with International Migrants Day on Sunday, zeroes-in on schemes in operation across the Asia-Pacific region the largest single migrant-producing region in the world.

“Migrant workers are often dehumanized,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, reminding “they are human beings entitled to human rights and full protection of their human dignity”.

Every year, millions leave their countries under temporary labour migration programmes that promise economic benefits for destination countries and development dividends to countries of origin.

The report details how in many cases temporary work schemes impose a range of unacceptable human rights restrictions. It highlights how migrant workers are often forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary housing, unable to afford nutritious food, denied adequate healthcare, and face prolonged and sometimes mandatory separation from their families. Also, policies that exclude them from government support in some countries put migrants at a disproportionate risk of Covid-19 infection, it points out.

“They should not be expected to give up their rights in return for being able to migrate for work, however crucial it is for them and their families, and for the economies of their countries of origin and destination,” Turk emphasised.

The report cites the example of one unnamed state that requires government permission to marry citizens or permanent residents. In another, certain designated ‘family zones’ cannot be rented to temporary migrants as the workers are not allowed to migrate with their families.

As part of some seasonal schemes, migrants are expected to work on Saturdays and Sundays, leaving them no time to attend religious services.

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