UNFPA State of World Population 2006 Print E-mail


Today, women constitute almost half of all international migrants worldwide­95 million. Yet, despite contributions to poverty reduction and struggling economies, it is only recently that the international community has begun to grasp the significance of what migrant women have to offer. And it is only recently that policymakers are acknowledging the particular challenges and risks women confront when venturing into new lands.

Every year millions of women working millions of jobs overseas send hundreds of millions of dollars in remittance funds back to their homes and communities. These funds go to fill hungry bellies, clothe and educate children, provide health care and generally improve living standards for loved ones left behind. For host countries, the labour of migrant women is so embedded into the very fabric of society that it goes virtually unnoticed. Migrant women toil in the households of working families, soothe the sick and comfort the elderly. They contribute their technical and professional expertise, pay taxes and quietly support a quality of life that many take for granted.

For a long time, the issue of women migrants has been low on the international policy agenda. Today, the world has a unique opportunity to change this: For the first time, government representatives from around the globe will be attending a United Nations session specifically devoted to migration. The 2006 High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development offers a critical opportunity to ensure that the voices of migrant women are heard. The explicit recognition of the human rights of women and the need for gender equality is a basic prerequisite of any sound, equitable and effective policy framework that seeks to manage migration in an orderly and humane manner.

Benefits cut both ways. For many women, migration opens doors to a new world of greater equality, relief from oppression and the discrimination that limits freedom and stunts potential. For origin and receiving countries, the contribution of women migrants can quite literally transform quality of life. This dedication, however, comes at a cost­for migration also has its dark side.

From the modern-day enslavement of trafficking victims to the exploitation of domestic workers, millions of female migrants face hazards that testify to a lack of adequate opportunities to migrate safely and legally. Trafficking is not only one of most horrific manifestations of migration “gone bad”; it also undermines national security and stability. (1) Weak multilateral cooperation and the failure to establish, implement and enforce policies and measures designed to protect migrant women from exploitation and abuse means it is the most vulnerable who will pay­and sometimes with their lives.

The demand for women migrants is at an all-time high and growing. Unnecessary and discriminatory barriers, coupled with inadequate human and labour rights protections, are beneficial neither to families or to countries­nor to the hundreds of thousands of women exposed to insufferable conditions and abuses.

Since the 1990s, governments have addressed international migration at various UN conferences. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) stands out among them. (2) By the time the tenth anniversary of the ICPD rolled around in 2004, the Programme of Action still constituted one of the leading and most comprehensive global governmental agreements ever established on international migration and development. (3) Among key commitments, governments agreed to “address the root causes of migration, especially those related to poverty”, (4) and to “seek to make the option of remaining in one’s country viable for all people”. (5) Since then, the global community has rallied around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, heads of state and government unanimously made a pledge to “make poverty history” (6) and to end gender discrimination.

Global communications and transportation have made it possible for people to enjoy more freedom of movement than ever before. But people should not be compelled to migrate because of inequality, exclusion and limited alternatives in their home countries. While governments and experts discuss how best to manage migration, at the centre is the fact that migrants are first and foremost human beings vested with human rights. (7) The equitable management of migration means that measures adopted should not further penalize the most vulnerable, who already face systemic inequality. Chief among these are lower-income and female migrants. Increasingly, migration is following an unsavory course that is hewing toward the negative side of globalization, and exacerbating existing inequalities. While an elite of highly skilled individuals increasingly enjoy the benefits of migration, barriers to poorer migrants are increasing.

Immigration and development go hand in hand. Stepped-up investments in poverty reduction, gender equality and development­including the fulfilment of donor country commitments to overseas development assistance (ODA)­are part and parcel of efforts to achieve a more orderly migration system. These are necessary to reduce the gaps between rich and poor and to expand opportunities for all­including women, who in too many countries lack equal access to livelihood opportunities. Sound immigration policies that respond to economic interests while safeguarding human rights and gender equality are critical. At the same time, they help remove unnecessary obstacles to mobility that can, and do, result both in the loss of human dignity and of human lives.

Sovereign countries have the right to control immigration and deter illegal entry. This, however, constitutes only one aspect of any comprehensive policy framework and should not be the only major focus. (8) One positive development is that more countries today acknowledge the need to manage migration rather than restrict it. (9)

Women are migrating and will continue to do so. Their needs are urgent and deserve priority attention. Only then will the benefits of international migration be maximized and the risks minimized. Women migrants are among the most vulnerable to human rights abuses­both as migrants and as females. Their hard work deserves recognition, and their human rights, protection. Their voices must be heard. Vision and leadership can help steer public debates away from reactionary sensationalism and an emphasis on “otherness” to a recognition of our common humanity, which binds us together in a world increasingly without borders.

 Chapter 1

The Good, The Bad, The Promising: Migration in the 21st Century

"Each year, en route to the United States, thousands of migrants like this Honduran boy stow away through Mexico on the tops and sides of freight trains." ©Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Since the very dawn of humanity, people have migrated. Exoduses and migratory flows have always been an integral part, as well as a major determinant, of human history. Yet large intercontinental movements only began in the 16th century, with the expansion of Europe and the settlement of colonies. (1) Over the last two centuries, migration rose to an unprecedented level, primarily owing to the globalization of economic activity and its effect on labour migration. (2) While the great majority of those who move are still internal migrants (individuals or families who migrate within their own country), the number of international migrants (3) is substantial.

A World on the Move
International migration is a vital part of today's globalized existence. It can play a key role in development and poverty reduction. It has clear benefits that could be enhanced and disadvantages that could be minimized. Despite this, many of the issues surrounding migration are complex and sensitive. The introduction of peoples from one culture into another tends to generate suspicion, fear and even downright xenophobia. High profile incidents involving migrants and heated debates have both underscored the stories of "migration gone bad". The millions of stories of "migration gone good" - of women, men and youth who leave their country and contribute to both their adopted and home countries through their skills, labour and taxes–tend to go largely untold.

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the migration landscape as transport and communications have improved within an increasingly globalized world. All nations are now involved with the movement of people–whether as origin, transit or receiving countries. The number of people counted as living outside their country of birth has almost doubled during the last 50 years–increasing to 191 million in 2005. (4) Women now constitute almost half of all migrants and dominate in migration streams to developed countries (see Chapter 2).

Migration can be voluntary or forced, although the actual experience may contain elements of both. Most people migrate for labour, family reunification or marriage. The demand for labour migrants (i.e., those searching for better economic opportunities abroad) has been a major factor in rising levels of migration to developed countries. (5) It is with respect to this group that experts invoke the potential role of migration in development and poverty reduction–especially given the significant impact that financial remittances and other benefits can have on countries of origin. Forced migration and trafficking, on the other hand, encompass the more poignant vulnerabilities associated with international movements– particularly where it involves women and children (see Chapters 3 and 4).

Despite perceptions to the contrary, the proportion of international migrants worldwide has remained relatively low, growing only from 2.5 per cent of the total global population in 1960 to 2.9 per cent in 2000. (6) Nevertheless, net migration accounts for a growing and major share of population growth in developed regions–three quarters in 2000-2005. (7) While in developing regions, emigration has not led to significant decreases in population growth, in 48 countries–mostly small or island states–it has resulted in reductions of more than 15 per cent. (8)

Today, the number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. International migrants would now constitute the world's fifth most populous country if they all lived in the same place–after China, India, the United States and Indonesia. (9) Nevertheless, migration has actually slowed: that is, the absolute number of new international migrants has decreased from 41 million between 1975 and 1990 to 36 million between 1990 and 2005. (10)Part of the decline can be attributed to the drop in the number of refugees.

Developing countries are experiencing a sharp reduction in the immigrant growth rate, while in developed countries (excluding the former Soviet Union), growth continues to expand: Of the 36 million who migrated between 1990 and 2005, 33 million wound-up in industrialized countries. (11) These trends reveal that 75 per cent of all international migrants now live in only 28 countries. (12) Between 1990 and 2005, 75 per cent of the increase occurred in only 17 countries, while migration actually decreased in 72 countries. (13) In sum, migration is concentrated in a relatively small number of countries: One out of every four migrants lives in North America and one of every three in Europe. (14)

Figure 1: Status of Ratification of international legal instruments related to international migrataion

Source: United Nations. 2006. International Migration and Development: Report of the Secretary-General (A/60/871).

 Chapter 2

A Mighty but Silent River: Women and Migration

In a Thai factory just across the border from Myanmar, a young woman with a gently rounded face and wide eyes assembles costume jewellery for export to North America. Her name is Saokham and she earns 140 Thai Baht (about US$3.50) a day. In this part of the world, it is a respectable wage­particularly for someone who grew up living in abject poverty in a mountain village in Myanmar’s Shan Province. Although Saokham completed eight years of free schooling, she was unable to continue her education because her parents were too poor to pay her school fees. At the age of 14 she followed her older sister­who had left home two years earlier­to neighbouring Thailand. Today, she lives with her young husband in a community of fellow compatriots near the Myanmar border. "Living in Thailand, we have money for food and to spend. Life is convenient," she says. "Back home we didn't have any work except farm work."

Saokham is part of a steadily growing revolution. It is a revolution of movement and empowerment; fuelled by hope and bedevilled by risk. Yet it remains largely silent. Today, 94.5 million, or nearly half (49.6 per cent) of all international migrants, are women. (1) If international migration has remained on the periphery of global policymaking until recently, the issue of migrant women has received even less attention. This is because research has failed to take into account the socio-economic contributions and unique experiences of women and girls. (2)

It is an important oversight, one that has broad consequences not only for the women who migrate, but also for families and communities left behind. Their remittances constitute a significant contribution to poverty reduction and development. Despite this, women face disproportionate obstacles and risks simply because they are female. These include discrimination­both at source and destination­abuse and exploitation, which testify to the neglect of their rights (see Chapter 3). Nevertheless, migration has proven to be a positive experience for millions of women and their families worldwide. Moving to a new country exposes women to new ideas and social norms that can promote their rights and enable them to participate more fully in society. It can also have a positive influence on gender norms in the country of origin. In all cases, policymakers need to focus attention on how discrimination influences the course of international migration at the individual, family, community and country levels. Only when international migration is properly managed will the human rights of migrant women be fulfilled and their contributions­to their families, their communities and their countries­be fully realized.

"There are very limited job opportunities in this country [Ethiopia]... I remember how I suffered before securing a job in Yemen... things would have been worse for me and my family had I not gone abroad to work."

­ Ethiopian woman who migrated (undocumented) to Yemen to work as a domestic worker. Within four years, she managed to bring her five sisters.

Globalization and the Migration of Women

While most women historically migrate for marriage or family reunification, the past decades have seen an increase in women­married and unmarried­who migrate alone or in the company of other women or fellow migrants outside of their family circle. (3) Women are on the move in all parts of the world, drawn by the opportunities and forces of globalization. Biases regarding what constitutes appropriate "male" or "female" labour, government policies and employer practices influence why and where women and men move, for what occupations and under what conditions.

While migrant women and men are both in demand, the latter are more likely to occupy highly skilled and better-paid jobs. Women, on the other hand, are often restricted to traditionally "female" occupations­such as domestic work, work in the service sectors (waitressing etc.), and sex work­frequently unstable jobs marked by low wages, the absence of social services and poor working conditions (4) Nevertheless, because care work and nursing remain traditional female roles, certain migration channels are now wide open­with formal mechanisms designed to fill the demand for female employees. However, even when migrating legally, women are often relegated to jobs where they are subject to discrimination, arbitrary employment terms and abuses.

Figure 5: Trends in Female Migration by Continent/Region, 1960-2005

Source: UN Population Division. 2006. Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision.

In addition to responding to the global demand for their services, women make the decision to move abroad because of a host of "push" factors in countries of origin. These include family obligations, unemployment, low wages, poverty, limited social and economic opportunities and the desire to expand their horizons. Women generally face greater decision-making and financial restrictions than do men, which can pose obstacles to freedom of movement. Yet income-earning opportunities abroad can loosen traditional constraints on female mobility. Economic and social upheaval can also provide the impetus to leave. For example, the 1998 economic crisis and the dollarization of the Ecuadorian currency in the year 2000 sparked a major outflow of new migrants to Spain. (5) The 1997 financial crisis in Asia similarly led to the emigration of many women from poorer countries. (6) For educated women unable to overcome employment discrimination in their own country, migration offers an opportunity to find work that is more likely to better utilize their skills. (7) Women also migrate to flee abusive marriages and patriarchal traditions that limit opportunity and freedom. (8) Discrimination against certain groups of women­single mothers, unmarried women, widows or divorcees­also drives many to move elsewhere. (9)

Over the last 40 years, almost as many women have migrated as men. Most moved to join their husbands in the settler countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. By the year 2005, there were slightly more female than male immigrants in all regions of the world except Africa and Asia. (1)

Among developed regions, North America is exceptional in that female immigrants have outnumbered male immigrants since 1930 and still do in both Canada and the United States. (2) Europe and Oceania are also reporting increasing proportions of female immigrants­ surpassing the number of males since 2000. (3) Among migrants to Australia, women have outnumbered men for the last three decades. The majority of women migrating to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America do so for family reunification, followed by labour migration and asylum. (4)

Within the developing world, the numbers of female labour migrants have also jumped. (5)

In Asia, the number of women migrating from some countries has surpassed that of males. The majority migrate alone to neighbouring East Asian countries, the Middle East and elsewhere. By the year 2000, an estimated two million Asian women were working in neighbouring countries. (6) In 2005, over 65 per cent of the nearly 3,000 Filipinos that left the country every day for work or residence abroad were women. (7) From Sri Lanka in 2002, there were two women for every male emigrant. (8) Between 2000 and 2003, an average of 79 per cent of all migrants leaving Indonesia to work abroad were women. (9) By the mid-1990s an estimated 800,000 Asian women were migrating to the Middle East annually­mostly as domestic workers. (10)

Latin American and Caribbean women are also highly mobile. By 1990, immigrant women in Latin America were the first in the developing world to reach parity with male migrants. (11) Destinations include Europe, North America and elsewhere in South America. The trend toward feminization is also strikingly apparent among migrants moving from both Central and South America to Spain, with women representing nearly 70 per cent of all immigrants arriving from Brazil and the Dominican Republic in 2001. (12) Women from this region also clearly dominate migration flows to Italy, where, in 2000, 70 per cent or more of the arrivals from 13 of 30 source countries were women. (13) Caribbean women have outnumbered males in migration flows to North America during every decade since the 1950s and are well represented in skilled categories. (14) The tourism industry has been a major pull factor behind the migration of Caribbean women. (15)

In Africa, widespread poverty, disease, land degradation and high male unemployment are all contributing to a steady increase in female migrants­and at a rate that is faster than the global average. (16) By 2005, 47 per cent of the 17 million immigrants in Africa were women­up from 42 per cent in 1960­with the greatest increases among migrants in the Eastern and Western regions. (17) While most African women circulate within the region, they are also moving to North America and Europe. To illustrate: From Cape Verde, women constitute 85 per cent of all those who migrate to Italy. (18) Employment opportunities in France have drawn an increasing number of educated women from urban areas of Senegal. (19) Nurses are also on the move­Nigerians to Saudi Arabia, and Ghanaian, South African and Zimbabwean nurses to Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. (20)

In the Arab region, socio-cultural norms continue to limit female mobility. Although reliable data are scarce, it is generally accepted that male émigrés far outnumber women. Unemployment, armed conflicts and economic need have been major factors. Young men migrating from poorer countries to richer oil-producing states have dominated migration flows to fill the demand for construction and infrastructural workers that followed in the wake of the oil boom.

 Chapter 3

Selling Hope and Stealing Dreams: Trafficking in Women and the Exploitation of Domestic Workers

Sylvia's descent into the dark world of trafficking began when a neighbour told the then 19-year-old he could help her find a good job as a sales girl in Moscow. Unemployed, broke, with a baby daughter and no husband or employment prospects in her hometown of Ungheni, Sylvia (not her real name) decided to journey to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau where she was to meet two men who would arrange for her travel to Russia. What followed was a nightmare of beatings, rape, privation and sickness. Sylvia had fallen into the hands of traffickers and was eventually smuggled with 11 others to Moscow­and straight into the murky underworld of globalized sexual servitude.

Although the exception rather than the rule, Sylvia's ordeal is one that hundreds of thousands of women and girls undergo every year. While migration can be an empowering experience for millions of people worldwide, when it "goes bad", migrants can find themselves trapped in situations of extreme exploitation and abuse. Trafficked women and domestic workers are two g roups that are particularly susceptible to major human rights violations and slave-like conditions.

Sylvia is one of the "lucky" ones. The anguish of her daily exploitation has finally drawn to a close. Today, more than a year after she was first trafficked, Sylvia has been reunited with her child and is living at an undisclosed location in an International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNFPA-sponsored "safe house". There, she is receiving counselling and health care as she waits to testify at the trial of her tormentors. She still suffers the effects of post-traumatic disorder: a condition that has destroyed her capacity for sleep and sends her into bouts of sudden and inexplicable tremors. Whether she will ever be able to live a "normal" life is still an unanswered question that hovers around her like the memories of all that she has had to endure.

Why does Sylvia want her story told? "At first I thought all the stories about trafficked girls were fake, a scare tactic," she says. "But now I know better, and I want to help others understand that it is real and can happen to anyone."

Because of its underground nature, experts caution that trafficking data is rough and hard to gauge. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 2.45 million trafficking victims are currently toiling in exploitative conditions, and that another 1.2 million are trafficked annually, both across and within national borders. (1) The US Department of State numbers are similar: between 600,000 and 800,000 women, men and children are trafficked across international borders each year­most for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. (2) Of these, the majority­up to 80 per cent­are women and girls. Up to 50 per cent are children.

Trafficked women are usually forced into prostitution and sex tourism, commercial marriages and other "female" occupations such as domestic work, agricultural and sweatshop labour. Human trafficking (3) is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking and is a major source of organized crime revenue. The industry generates an estimated US$7 to $12 billion annually­although real numbers are difficult to come by. (4) These numbers, however, reflect profits only from the initial sale of persons. The ILO estimates that once victims are in the destination country, traffickers net an additional US$32 billion a year­half generated in industrialized countries and almost one third in Asia. (5)

Trafficking constitutes the dark "underside" of globalization. (6) The opening-up of national borders and international markets has led not only to increased international flows of capital, goods and labour, but also to the globalization of organized crime. Improved information technologies and transportation allow transnational syndicates to operate as never before. The majority of victims are migrants in search of a better life who are usually lured by the false promise of a decent job. (7) Increasingly restrictive immigration policies limit the possibility of legal entry, which is in turn driving more and more would-be migrants to unwittingly entrust themselves to traffickers. (8)

Although trafficking differs from other types of migration, there is considerable overlap with both regular and irregular migration where it involves violence, confinement, coercion, deception and exploitation. (9) A mail-order bride, for example, may enter the country legally but subsequently be forced into labour; a domestic worker can end up trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. Trafficking also intersects with smuggling. Unlike the latter, however, trafficking contains an element of coercion or deception while the relationship between migrants and smugglers is based on consent and usually ends upon arrival at the destination. In actual practice, however, distinctions can be fuzzy, and there are cases that contain elements of both. (10)

Slavery was condemned even before the landmark 1815 Declaration Relative to the Universal Abolition of the Slave Trade . (1) Slavery is a crime against humanity that includes forced labour, serfdom (forced labour on another's land), (2) debt bondage, (3) trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced marriage, the sale of wives and child servitude. Forced labour (4)­that which is carried out involuntarily and under threats of penalty­is present in some form on all continents, and includes bonded labour in South Asia and in Latin America (mainly indigenous people are its victims), and traditional forms of slavery in parts of Africa. (5)

In 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe lamented the fact that, today, in the 21st century, slavery continues to exist in Europe. Among its findings: "slaves are predominantly female and usually work in private households, starting out as migrant domestic workers, au pairs or 'mail-order brides'". It urges all member states to criminalize and prosecute those responsible for any form of slavery, and to "at least" consider extending abused domestic workers temporary residency permits and enable them to file charges against abusive husbands or employers. It also calls for a domestic worker charter of rights. (6) The ILO also reports that women labour migrants are often deceived into accepting jobs as domestic workers and are then trapped into debt-bondage or sexually trafficked. Some migrate under the façade of marriage or under au pair programmes that were originally set up for cultural exchange. (7)

There are two categories of forced labour: forced economic exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation. Of the 12.3 million people forced into labour worldwide, the ILO contends that women and girls form the majority: 56 per cent of those in forced economic exploitation, and 98 per cent of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation. (8)


Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that is driven by demand and fuelled by poverty and unemployment. Many trafficking victims typically apply for advertised jobs as babysitters, models, hairdressers, dancers and waitresses­with friends, and sometimes even relatives, acting as recruiters. According to research in Serbia and Montenegro, 64 per cent of recruiters are acquaintances. (11) Criminal networks, often working in collaboration with corrupt customs officials, will process travel documents and seize victims' passports upon arrival. Most women are forced into prostitution in order to pay off their "debt". Traffickers will often rape, isolate and/or drug victims in order to "break" their spirit and ensure compliance. Women and girls are often sold and resold and then re-trafficked to other destinations. (12)

South-East Asia and South Asia are home to the largest numbers of internationally trafficked persons, at an estimated 225,000 and 150,000 respectively. The US Department of State estimates that more than 100,000 persons are trafficked from the former Soviet Union and 75,000 from Eastern Europe each year, while Africans account for an additional 50,000. The Department also maintains that approximately 100,000 persons are trafficked out of Latin America and the Caribbean. (13)

In Asia, the largest numbers of women trafficked are said to be within or from the region. (14) The Greater Mekong (15) and Indonesia are major trafficking areas. Thailand, in addition to being a destination country, serves as a source and transit hub for other Asian countries, Australia, the United States and Western Europe. (16) India and Pakistan are major countries of destination for trafficked women and girls and are also transit points into the Middle East. (17) In South Asia, child trafficking is of particular concern: "an extension of a serious child labour problem", which includes the exploitation of girls for domestic work. (18)

Although trafficking victims come from all over the world, in Europe most now circulate from Eastern Europe, and numbers appear to be rising. (19) Since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, researchers report that the number of women being trafficked outside the country has risen markedly. The IOM estimates that approximately 2,000 Lithuanian women and girls, mostly from poorer, less educated backgrounds, are illegally taken out of the country each year and forced into the sex trade. (20) In Germany and the Netherlands, the number of victims registered has also increased in recent years. (21)

According to the IOM, Turkey has become one of the "largest markets" for women trafficked from nearby former Soviet states, with crime syndicates there pocketing up to $3.6 billion in 2005. Of the number of sex trafficking victims identified in 2005, 60 per cent came from Moldova and Ukraine, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 24. In response, the government of Turkey is stepping up measures to prevent and crack down on trafficking. (22)

In South-Eastern Europe, on the other hand, trafficking appears to be declining­or has become less visible. Bosnia-Herzegovina exemplifies some of the emerging trends and difficulties inherent in putting a stop to the trade. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children noted during the 2005 mission that trafficking has "changed in magnitude and nature". Traffickers have adapted their modus operandi to the anti-trafficking strategy adopted by the Government. (23) Following large-scale government raids, traffickers have gone further underground­away from nightclubs and into private homes. Fewer women are coming forward, but whether this can be attributed to reduced trafficking is difficult to assess. Some fear deportation and others are reluctant to speak to the police, who have sometimes themselves been accused of soliciting their services.

The Southern Africa region is host to a wide range of activities. These include the trafficking of women and children from Eastern Europe, China, Malawi, Mozambique, and Thailand into South Africa. A 2005 inquiry conducted by the IOM in South Africa reveals that women continue to be brought in from the rural areas of Mozambique and Maputo to be sold to gold miners for "use as sex partners and domestic servants without remuneration". (24) In West Africa, most trafficking involves girls who are then sold into domestic work­although the ILO notes that armed groups also engage in child trafficking. (25) In Ethiopia, traffickers tend to operate small businesses, such as travel agencies and import-export companies­activities that require frequent travel to the Middle East. (26)

In Latin America and the Caribbean, most women are trafficked from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico and are taken for the purposes of sexual exploitation to North America, Western Europe and other countries in the region. (27) Up to 70,000 Brazilians, mostly trafficked women, are estimated to be working as prostitutes in other South American countries and in places as distant as Spain and Japan. (28) Children from the region are also trafficked into the sex and drugs trade or exploited as domestic workers. (29)

Trafficking victims to the United States come from no less than 50 countries and are often forced to toil in garment shops on the outskirts of Los Angeles, brothels in San Francisco, bars in New Jersey and slave-labour farm camps in Florida. (30) United States officials note that 14,500 to 17,500 people are brought into the country for purposes of exploitation every year. (31)

Figure 6: Countries of Origin, as measured by the extent of reporting of trafficking

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2006. Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, p. 38.

Figure 7: Countries of Destination, as measured by the extent of reporting of trafficking

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2006. Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, p. 39.

Under international law, rights to life, security, liberty, not to be sold in marriage, and prohibitions on slavery, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, and on forced and child labour, among others, apply to all individuals within a country's borders­regardless of their legal status or national origin. Numerous international and regional conventions and agreements prohibit trafficking and the enslavement of fellow human beings. But trafficking in persons has also prompted the evolution of its own specific set of human rights treaties and principles.

The 2003 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, is the leading international instrument and is a supplement to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime . (32) It goes beyond trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and takes into account new forms, such as forced domestic work and commercial marriage. Its main purposes are "to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children"; protect and assist victims; punish perpetrators; and foster intergovernmental collaboration. All States Party (97) to the UN Trafficking Protocol are required to establish trafficking as a criminal offence. (33) At the regional level, the most recently adopted treaty is the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. (34) It covers all forms of trafficking, including that which occurs internally, and establishes a monitoring system that includes ministerial representatives and independent experts responsible for assessing implementation and recommending improvements. (35)

Since the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, international trafficking policy has gained momentum, including through various UN Conferences, human rights mechanisms and reports. (36) More recently, the commitment to end trafficking has been reflected at government gatherings at the highest levels­including at the 2004 meeting of the African Union (37) and the 2005 World Summit of Heads of State and Government. (38)

"I had heard stories about women being bought and sold like merchandise but I didn't believe them­and I never dreamt it would happen to me."
­ A Romanian survivor of sex trafficking

Trafficked persons are often fearful of reprisals if they cooperate with authorities. Among government measures instituted is a "reflection period", or short-term residence permit, that enables victims to recover and consider options. The UN Trafficking Protocol recommends that governments allow victims to remain in the destination country, temporarily or permanently. It also calls on States Party to ensure the safety of victims and protect their privacy and identity and to "consider" providing: housing; legal information and counselling in a language that victims understand; medical services; and assistance with education, employment and training. (39) It also recommends that governments establish legal measures to allow victims compensation for damage suffered. For example, in one case, a woman was awarded over US$400,000 in compensatory damages and over US$300,000 in punitive damages in a lawsuit against an international marriage broker. The marriage broker had failed to inform her of a law that would enable her to escape her abusive marriage without fear of automatic deportation. (40)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Trafficking in Persons also emphasizes the protection of victims. According to this document, support and care should not be made conditional upon the capacity, or willingness, of trafficked women to cooperate in legal proceedings. (41) Trafficked persons require protection from further exploitation and access to medical and psychological care, including voluntary and confidential counselling and HIV testing. (42)

Since 2000, US law has provided a so-called "T-visa" for trafficking victims willing to assist prosecutors. This allows them to stay in the country for up to three years and then apply for permanent residency. (43) The Council of Europe Convention has introduced an obligatory recovery and reflection period for a minimum of 30 days for undocumented victims. Countries in the region have followed suit, with variations in the duration and conditions under which permits are granted. This allows victims time to escape the influence of traffickers and recuperate while they decide whether to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities. (44) However, some experts and human rights groups have criticized these measures for their emphasis on criminal proceedings, rather than on protection. (45) According to Anti-Slavery International, countries that have introduced reflection periods or short-term residence permits­which are not conditional on cooperation­have been "extremely effective in prosecuting traffickers". (46) Italy offers one such model. (47) Such a system confirms that there is no contradiction between protecting and assisting victims, and effectively prosecuting traffickers.

After the expiry of the reflection period or the short-term residence permit, the trafficked victim is usually returned to her country of nationality or permanent residence. According to the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, repatriation should preferably be voluntary and take into account the victim's safety. Refugee law can be of assistance to trafficked persons if there is a well-founded fear of persecution: In the 2000 Dzhygun case in the United Kingdom, for example, the Immigration Appeal Tribunal found that a woman was entitled to protection as a member of a particular social group, namely "women in the Ukraine who are forced into prostitution against their will". (48)

Another issue that deters victims from cooperating with law enforcement officials is that of corruption. Women are often reluctant to come forward because they fear law enforcement authorities. Traffickers sometimes claim that they control the police­an assertion that may seem plausible, in particular if victims have witnessed the complicity of border and other state officials when trafficked out of their country of origin. (49)

Today, most countries are stepping up efforts to crack down on trafficking. Nevertheless challenges remain. These include inadequate data, underdeveloped or non-existent government programmes, corruption, and the resilience of the criminal syndicates that frequently change tactics and utilize legal businesses and mechanisms as fronts. The 2005 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report tracks and reports on new prosecutions, convictions and new or amended legislation by region. (50) Countries that do not make reasonable efforts to comply with the minimum standards set by the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act may face non-humanitarian, non-trade related sanctions. These may include US opposition to assistance from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. (51) Reports of the Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly also chronicle government efforts to prosecute trafficking.

Trafficking victims need safety, support and care while undergoing social and economic reintegration once their ordeal has ended. Not only do they have to deal with the depression that often ensues, but also social stigma­especially in cases of sexual exploitation.

According to the Report of the Secretary-General on Trafficking in Women and Girls (2004), various countries are taking measures to support victims. Belgium and the United States, for example, provide some financial assistance. Telephone hotlines are available in some countries, including Bangladesh, Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, Turkey, the US and Uzbekistan. China, Indonesia, Portugal and the United States, among others, also offer access to legal services. Various countries provide social programmes, including psychological and medical care, and have established shelters and crisis centres­although these fall short of need and tend to be underfunded. One UNFPA-supported shelter run by the IOM in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, delivers reproductive health services to trafficked women and girls. (52)

Owing to fears of corrupt police and possible arrest and deportation, trafficked women often prefer to approach NGOs rather than state-based agencies. In the Philippines, the NGO Visayan Forum Foundation is a private/public partnership that operates shelters for trafficked persons and works with the police, shipping companies and the port authority to identify traffickers. (53) In Colombia, the Medellin-based Espacios de Mujer provides psychological, social and health services as well as educational and income-generating opportunities. Medellin serves as one of the key transit points for women trafficked in and out of Colombia. (54)

In the Mae Sai border district in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, a Japanese social worker helped set up the Self-Empowerment Program for Migrant Women (SEPOM). It is designed to empower former sex workers trafficked into Japan and help them towards self-sufficiency. Through self-help groups, women share their stories in a non-judgemental environment and rebuild self-confidence and self-worth. (55) In 2000, another self-empowerment initiative was launched in the Philippines. The Survivors’ Networks of Filipino Women brings trafficking victims together to discuss issues around financial and social empowerment. (56)


According to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, "the lack of rights afforded to women serves as the primary causative factor at the root of both women's migration and trafficking". (57) To fight trafficking effectively, underlying causes such as poverty and the lack of equal opportunities need to be addressed. (58) Women who lack economic security are easy prey if they are willing to leave their country in search of work elsewhere. The elimination of discrimination against women is thus not only a human rights priority, but also key to putting an end to trafficking.

Effective prevention requires a comprehensive approach. This involves education and includes awareness-raising campaigns, community involvement, poverty reduction initiatives and the creation of livelihood opportunities. It also involves more equitable income distribution and the rebuilding of societies following conflict. (59) Legal reforms that allow equal rights to own and control property and land will help cut the risks associated with the trafficking of women in rural communities. (60)

There are many examples of development programmes aimed at reducing the vulnerability of poorer communities. The Asian Development Bank regards trafficking in women and children as a major challenge to its mission of poverty reduction. (61) It provides emergency loans, assistance for post-conflict reconstruction and social protection to those most at risk. In Myanmar, the Government offers poor women and girls vocational training and loans to jump-start mini entrepreneurial ventures, while in Kyrgyzstan, authorities are assisting unemployed nationals residing in small towns and rural areas. (62) In 2005, the Government of Nepal reported that it was establishing a National Rapporteur on Trafficking in the offices of the National Human Rights Commission. (63)

Many governments, NGOs and UN organizations have embarked on community awareness-raising efforts­including those that target poor rural areas where girls and women are most likely to be recruited (see Box 13). In Brazil, the government launched a campaign, including through the radio and signs posted at airports, to alert women departing from states where the risks of trafficking are particularly high. (64) A one-month campaign in Bangladesh sought to educate community members about trafficking and related crimes against women, and to sensitize them on issues related to the reintegration of victims. (65) In Cambodia, UNICEF supports community-based networks with volunteers conducting outreach in order to raise awareness of how traffickers operate and how to intervene. (66) In Indonesia, the Asia Foundation has supported the Fahmina Institute to provide anti-trafficking training materials to Islamic boarding schools (pesantren), which have a high concentration of female students from impoverished areas. After a meeting of school leaders, 32 schools in East Java formed the Pesantren-based Alliance for Eliminating Trafficking in Persons. (67) In India, with the collaboration of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Inter-Faith Religious Leaders Forum of Bihar brought together Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian religious leaders to educate their followers on violence against women. The Forum's A Fact Book on Human Trafficking contains messages derived from religious teachings to mobilize their respective commu¬nities as a religious obligation. The initiative is now expanding to other states within India and into Bangladesh and Nepal. (68) In Nigeria, the Girls' Power Initiative (GPI) educates both girls and their parents on the necessity of empowering girls and preventing trafficking. (69)

Every year an estimated 12,000 Nepalese women and girls are trafficked into India. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 100,000 to 200,000 Nepalese women and girls are held against their will in Indian brothels, with roughly 25 per cent under the age of 18 years. Traffickers typically lure impoverished girls with promises of jobs in urban areas or abroad. Some families knowingly send their daughters to brothels because they consider them a burden. Many of the women and girls are illiterate and are not even aware that they have been taken across the border. The Government of Nepal has identified 26 districts from which women and girls have disappeared.

In response, the Reproductive Health Initiative for Youth in Asia (RHIYA), a partnership of the European Union and UNFPA working in collaboration with NGOs, is focusing on 19 "high-risk" impoverished districts. The programme educates parents, community leaders, district health officials, and young people about the dangers of trafficking. It also provides girls and young women with training and empowerment opportunities. Trafficking survivors are reintegrated into their communities through efforts designed to reduce stigmatization and are referred to social and legal services for additional assistance.

The initiative is proving effective. In the district of Prasauni VDC, a RHIYA peer educator was able to rescue three adolescent girls the very same day they were scheduled to depart. She had learned that the young men who had promised the girls work were, in fact, traffickers. After the peer educator raised the alarm, villagers caught the traffickers and handed them over to the police. They soon admitted their guilt. In Rupandehi District, a young woman was asked by her brother-in-law to accompany him on a one-day shopping trip to Gorakhpur, just across the border. But when she arrived at the crossing, her brother-in-law introduced her to two other girls and asked her to accompany them into India, claiming that he would join them later after taking care of some personal business. She became alarmed, recalling the RHIYA educational sessions on trafficking, and realized that her brother-in-law must be a trafficker. She immediately sought help from the border NGO Maaiti Nepal and all the girls were returned safely to their homes. (1)

 Chapter 4

By Force, Not by Choice: Refugee Women and Asylum-Seekers

With a faint voice and half-closed eyes, Hajja tells her story: Five months ago, when she was four months pregnant, she fled her village to seek refuge from a conflict that is still tearing apart the lives of countless people living in Darfur, Sudan. She, her husband and their seven children made the 55 kilometre trek under the scorching desert sun before reaching Kalma camp­a safe haven that huddles along the train tracks near the Chad/Sudan border. They left behind their home, their friends and a life to which they may never be able to return.

Home to over 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), Kalma is the largest camp operating in Darfur. Many of its residents will eventually seek safety in other countries on other continents. But on 10 May, 2005, Hajji gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby at an UNFPA-supported women's clinic run by the Médecins du Monde. Her name is "Hope" and it is a moniker that serves as both an invocation for the future and testimony to all that her family has lost. Hope is also what enables millions of women, men and children to flee conflict, persecution and human rights abuses­despite hardship, uncertainty, fear and violence. But it is force, not choice, that compels so many to abandon their families, homes, communities and the very countries in which they were born.

Although forced displacement entails risks for everyone who attempts it, women and girls face particular challenges­during flight, through temporary refuge and in final settlement. In 2005, there were approximately 12.7 million refugees in the world, roughly half of them women, and 773,500 individuals seeking asylum globally. (1) As well as risks and hazards, however, flight offers refugees an opportunity to escape exploitation, discrimination and persecution. The breakdown of society can also afford an opportunity to rebuild anew on a foundation of equality and respect for human rights. Following the end of hostilities, women refugees play a critical role in building a lasting peace and restoring social and economic order. (2) For many refugee women, reconstruction can offer an escape from discrimination and the opportunity to exercise new-found autonomy. For many, however, it does not.

Women and girls face many dangers and obstacles throughout the entire refugee experience. When schools and medical facilities close, jobs are lost and armed groups seize control, it is largely women and girls who assume care for children, the infirm and the elderly. Many must contend with unwanted and forced pregnancies and have special needs relating to sexual and reproductive health issues. They also often bear a disproportionate share of responsibilities and burdens. Certain groups of women­such as those who head households, ex-combatants, the elderly, the disabled, widows, young mothers and unaccompanied adolescent girls­are more vulnerable and require special protection and support. Although women make up a higher proportion of elderly refugees, their particular needs are often neglected. (3) Many are also widowed and care for orphaned or separated children.

Today, too many women still face considerable obstacles in their attempts to present claims of persecution­a major reason why, unlike refugees, they are usually underrepresented among asylum-seekers. For historical reasons, and because exclusively male delegations did not consider that persecution could be based on gender, the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol did not specifically recognize it as a valid reason to claim refugee status. (1)

In 2002, UNHCR released a set of international guidelines affirming that the international definition of refugees "covers gender-related claims". (2) These include forms of persecution that are particular to women, or that primarily affect women, or occur because they are women­such as severe forms of gender discrimination (i.e., Afghan women under the Taliban). (3) Gender-related asylum claims can include sexual violence, domestic violence, trafficking, coerced family planning, forced abortion, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) honour killings, forced marriage, punishment for going against social mores and discrimination against same-sex partners. (4) In all cases, individuals seeking gender-related asylum need to satisfy the eligibility criteria for refugee status as defined by the Convention.

Despite these and other developments, officials tend to favour a narrow definition of what constitutes a refugee. This means they are sometimes reluctant to recognize gender-related persecution as grounds for asylum­especially that perpetrated by private citizens and where the state is unable to provide protection. (5) Some argue that violence against women is of too personal a nature to amount to persecution; others fear that all applicants seeking asylum on the basis of discrimination or assault would have to be approved if women were considered a "particular social group". Experience in Canada and the US, however, has proven that this is not the case. (6)

In 1993, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt guidelines that define women as a "particular social group" as put forth by the 1951 Convention. This laid the foundation for gender guidelines in other countries, including Australia, South Africa, the UK and the US. (7) In 1995, the United States Government granted asylum to a woman fleeing FGM/C. It was an important precedent, and the Government subsequently granted asylum on the basis of honour killings and forced marriage.

In 2004, the European Council adopted a directive that, among other issues, recognized child- and gender-specific forms of persecution, including sexual violence. This statute, applicable to nearly all EU Member States, calls for countries to comply by passing and enforcing domestic legislation by October 2006. (8) Although the EU's goal is to establish a common asylum system for all members by 2010, each country currently maintains its own policies. For example, 17 of 41 European countries surveyed during a 2004 UNHCR study recognize sexual violence explicitly as a form of persecution, but the rest had not. Just over half acknowledge that discrimination can constitute a form of persecution while three quarters do not recognize sexual exploitation or forced prostitution in their asylum procedures. Two thirds, however, recognize non-state agents of persecution. (9)

The UK stands out as one of the most progressive European countries when it comes to policies that protect female asylum-seekers. In addition to the 2004 release of Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim, case law recognizes the role of non-state armed groups in fomenting sexual violence. (10) However, even in countries with more progressive policies, application can be inconsistent. (11) The consolidation of EU asylum policies offers an opportunity to strengthen and standardize guidelines for female asylum-seekers.

Nonetheless, men are more likely to apply and be granted asylum than women. In 2000, women accounted for only 33 per cent of asylum applications in Canada, (12) and in 2002, roughly one third in Europe. (13) This is because women are usually not the primary applicants (male relatives are); gendered reasons may make case presentation more difficult (i.e., shame regarding painful experiences of rape or torture, and embarrassment over relaying personal information to male interviewers). Other issues include the fact that women are more likely to be interviewed alongside spouses or other intimate partners when they are not the primary applicant­even when they have borne the brunt of persecution. This is sometimes compounded by interviewer ignorance of how cultural differences regarding female demeanor can influence the interview outcome (for example, reluctance to establish eye contact). (14)

In addition, some national asylum guidelines are more likely to recognize those persecuted by the state (more often men) than victims of non-state persecution (more often women, who are more likely to be threatened by members of their family or community­such as in cases of "honour killings", FGM/C or violent spouses). (15) Even when women are politically active, their involvement is usually "low-level" and not as high profile as men's. Much of it is undertaken from the home, which means evidence for the claim can be harder to gather. Thus, female asylum-seekers may challenge conventional notions of politically based persecution, and are therefore more likely to face barriers when filing a claim. (16)

Failure to recognize gender-related claims­beyond perpetuating uncertainty and fear of being deported back to a threatening situation­has also been linked to irregular migration and higher risks of exploitation. Some women with legitimate claims may opt out of the process altogether and become undocumented migrants instead. And since many countries bar asylum-seekers from legally working, this means many women are forced to take whatever jobs are available­even though this might increase the risk of being exploited and/or trafficked. (17)

Though policies and practices remain inconsistent and vary from country to country, some good practices have emerged for others to draw from. These include gender-sensitive and cross-cultural training that targets officials and includes informing female asylum-seekers of their rights­such as the right to be interviewed separately and confidentially and to register claims independently. UNHCR recommends that a same-sex interviewer be assigned to speak to women apart from other family members in order to allow greater privacy and freedom of expression. (18)

Expanded Protections and Recognition
After many years of ignoring the differing needs, roles and experiences of women and men, the international community is making important strides towards protecting refugee women and girls and advancing their rights.

The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol defines refugees as those who are outside their country of nationality "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion". (4) Under international humanitarian law, governments are bound to protect refugees from violence and to safeguard their rights, including rights to education, work, freedom of movement and of religion. (5) They are also bound by the principle of non-refoulement­whereby refugees cannot be forced to return to their country of origin if they have a reasonable fear that doing so will endanger their lives.

Today, various international agreements focus on empowering and protecting women. In 1991, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women. These were established to better address the needs of refugee women and enhance their involvement in decision-making. Guidelines on sexual and gender-based violence issued in 2003 provide additional measures to ensure protection and support survivors. (6) Humanitarian relief agencies have made considerable progress by making reproductive health services more widely available, address¬ing gender-based violence, increasing the enrolment of girls in schools and involving women refugees in camp management. (7)

In recent years, the international community has also undertaken important initiatives designed to protect women from rape during and after conflict, and bring perpetrators to justice. (8) Among the most significant, is the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which defines sexual violence as a war crime­a precedent established by international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. (9) UN Security Council resolutions passed between 1999 and 2003 to protect children during armed conflict also note the needs and vulnerabilities of girls and condemn sexual violence during peacekeeping operations. (10)

Throughout the UN conferences of the 1990s, governments agreed to provide special protection and meet the needs of refugee women. These agreements include the 1994 International Programme of Action on Population and Development and the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. In 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325, a landmark decision mandating the participation of women in the peace process and calling for protection and support for women living amid armed conflict. (11) The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, adopted by heads of state and governments, reiterated the importance of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. (12)

Refugees often wind up living in a variety of temporary arrangements. In some cases, they stay with host families or settle in urban areas. For most, however, life continues on in camps. While some provide refuge for a few thousand, others hold far more. (In 2003, Afghans living in Pakistani camps numbered over one million. (13)) And while some refugees remain for only a few months, protracted instability in the country of origin means that this is the exception. As of 2003, the average duration of years spent in a refugee camp was 17 years. (14) A number of Palestinian camps were established as early as 1948 and 1967. (15)

Many refugees arrive at their destinations exhausted, ill and traumatized. Before their arrival, they have often witnessed, if not experienced directly, extreme violence. Even while in the camp, refugees may get caught in fighting between factions, clans or nationalities, and be vulnerable to cross-border attacks. Ethnic or religious differences with the host community can fuel resentment.

Especially at the outset of an emergency, shelter, water, food, medicine and health services may be insufficient for the number of people seeking refuge. Education for children is a major concern: Only 3 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million refugee adolescents in developing countries between the ages of 12 and 17 were attending secondary school based on year 2000 estimates. (16) Girls face particular barriers. This is because women and girls usually spend more time doing domestic work, such as gathering food, fuel and water, instead of going to school or earning an income. (17) In response, more and more educational programmes are specifically targeting girls to ensure they complete their education. For young mothers this can be particularly tough. In 2003 and 2004, UNHCR and the US Embassy paid the tuition fees of young Angolan refugee mothers in the Meheba camp in Zambia. The girls were also offered childcare and the support of older women mentors. (18)

Among some refugee groups, traditional cultural norms can become more entrenched as a result of displacement. This can lead to even more limitations on female autonomy. Afghan refugees in Pakistan, for example, adopted a more extreme form of purdah (the separation of men and women) during displacement that the Taliban then strictly enforced when they returned to Afghanistan. (19) Nevertheless, the active participation of communities and women themselves can help overcome discriminatory attitudes. Particularly vital is to ensure that women, especially heads of households, have access to educational and livelihood opportunities. In Pakistan, Save the Children offers a health and literacy programme for Afghan refugee women living in remote provinces. The German Development Organization (GTZ) has offered literacy courses for the past 18 years in many of the 250 refugee camps it has supported. (20) In Liberia, in 2002, UNHCR provided literacy training for a group of women who would then go on to teach other women. The organization also supported livelihood programmes: In one project, 80 per cent of the 339 refugees receiving skills and income-generating training were women and adolescent girls. (21)

In Ghana's Buduburam camp, Unite for Sight established a unique programme that provides economic alternatives for female Liberian refugees so destitute that they were often forced to trade sex for food. (22) There, female heads of household produce hand-made eyeglass cases for sale on the world market. All proceeds go to fund an eye care clinic for the camp's refugees. (23) Another UNHCR programme provides a small monthly stipend and medical care to registered Congolese refugees living in Kampala, Uganda. These programmes also help send displaced children to school. Most urban refugees in Kampala are widows with three or more children. (24)

 Chapter 5

Safeguarding Human Rights, Embracing Cultural Diversity

Despite considerable promise, international migration also poses some major dilemmas­whether arising out of security, economic, demographic, patriotic, social, cultural or human rights concerns. Nonetheless, international migration is here to stay: There is no indication that humankind­on the move since its early history­will refrain from seizing the opportunities that an increasingly interconnected world of expanding prospects has to offer. Migration will endure for at least as long as poverty and inequality affect a huge swath of humanity. The real challenge is how best to expand the positive contributions of international migration­especially when it comes to poverty reduction and development­while mitigating the risks for all involved. (1)

At the dawn of the 21st century, the global community has come a long way towards understanding how such tensions can be managed­and that is through international collaboration and the respect and promotion of human rights. One of the major achievements of the 20th century (2) is the development of an international human rights system that champions human dignity and the basic needs to which all human beings are entitled­regardless of their national origins. The birth of this legacy stems from the very founding of the United Nations, which today encompasses a community of 191 nations entrusted with seeking dignified solutions to the challenges of living in a globalized world.

The effective management of international migration requires global, regional and bilateral cooperation. In recent years, inter-governmental dialogue has intensified. (3) Building on the momentum of recent high-level commitments, the year 2006 is a significant one for international migration and global policy-making, which will culminate at the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. This is where the challenge lies: Will governments, parliamentarians, employers and civil society fulfil the promise of human rights made to the world's nearly 200 million international migrants? The world will be watching.

Protecting the Human Rights of Migrants
At the global level, governments have consistently reaffirmed the human rights of migrants and their families. World leaders at both historic summits­the 2000 UN Millennium Summit and the 2005 World Summit­recognized that the management of international migration will play a significant role in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). (4) Governments also specifically called attention to the needs and rights of women migrants and refugees in the plans of action adopted at the UN conferences of the 1990s. These included the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.

A rights-based and gender-sensitive approach is the minimum standard to which any immigration policy should be held. However, explicitly applying human rights protections to international migrants and addressing the specific rights concerns of women have been slow at the global level.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was adopted in 1990. But it took thirteen years for it to come into force in 2003­after the minimum number of countries ratified it. (5) As of January 2006, only 34 out of 191 countries had ratified the Convention. Not one of the top ten immigrant-receiving countries in the world­who as a group are home to half of all the world's migrants­features in this listing. (6) Concerned with the need to step up rights protections for migrants, partners that include leading international NGOs and UN organizations have launched the "Global Campaign for Ratification of the Convention". (7)

Many internationally recognized human rights are applicable to citizens and non-citizens alike within the territory of a State. Rights to liberty, to freedom from torture and inhumane treatment, to education and health, to equal treatment in employment, to join unions and to enjoy rest days, (8) for example, are human rights that, under international law, every State is obliged to make at least minimal efforts to respect, protect and fulfil­regardless of an individual's legal status. In practice, countries limit some human rights to citizens only, and make distinctions between documented and undocumented migrants. (9) This is within their sovereign rights. International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions also establish guidelines and recommendations on what constitutes decent work, forced labour and minimal work standards, including two devoted to migrants. (10) These instruments are especially relevant for the millions of workers­including migrant workers­whose labour facilitates the high quality of life to which many host nations have become accustomed. These migrants often take on grueling and underpaid work in farms, garbage collection or cleaning that helps to keep households and cities supplied, organized and tidy. While most immigrant workers have been, and continue to be, prepared for a trade-off­low pay and socio-economic challenges in exchange for the opportunity to earn higher wages and live peacefully abroad­sending and receiving countries have not always fulfilled their end of the tacit bargain when it comes to human rights.

By and large, labour laws still do not effectively protect most of the world's working migrant women­even when they have legal status. The problem is compounded by the fact that many migrants lack access to information about their rights or how to claim them. This is aggravated by a dearth of adequate data on which to base effective policy responses and the tendency to underreport human rights violations owing to the underground nature of much migrant labour. (11) One important goal is to regulate the currently unregulated sectors under which many migrant women are employed. This includes strengthening monitoring systems that hold employers to account­something that will go a long way towards preventing and ending abuses which, in their most extreme form, constitute modern day slavery. Encouraging and binding employers (including public agencies and multinational corporations) to laws and codes of conduct can further protect the human rights of migrant workers. Various incipient initiatives are under way that are designed to establish corporate responsibility­including a number launched by the UN and other entities. (12)

Rights to education and to health are especially critical, not only for the migrant individuals and families in question, but in the interests of receiving countries. A child's right to receive an education is fundamental to his or her development as a citizen of the world, regardless of the legal status of child and parent. Health is not only a core right established by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights­a UN treaty ratified or signed by more than 150 nations (13)­but is also necessary for a productive life. In some receiving countries, the immigrant workforce represents a substantial share of the total labour force, and, consequently, the health status of migrants can have a significant impact on national economic output. Furthering reproductive health and rights is especially necessary to safeguard both the health and empowerment of migrant women. Failure to promote education and health-care access for immigrants and their families also carries implications for their integration. Poor educational and health status feed discrimination against migrants, and contribute to socio-economic marginalization from mainstream society.

Various countries recognize their responsibilities under international law­responsibilities that are often enshrined in their own constitutions­and affirm the basic rights of all persons within their territories, regardless of legal status. In several instances, countries make allowances for all migrants to access health care­although, for undocumented migrants these are often limited to medical emergencies. In September 2005, the Government of Mexico announced it was extending health care to all Mexican migrants and their families that travel from the United States. The "popular insurance" scheme is slated to extend coverage to 1 million people on a range of health issues, including cancer, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cataracts and kidney-related illnesses. (14) The European Union-funded initiative on Migrant-Friendly Hospitals has been implemented in 12 Member States to assess how best to strengthen the role of hospitals in order to promote culturally sensitive health care for migrants and ethnic minorities. (15)

But progress is still inconsistent when it comes to protecting the rights of migrants, and especially those who are undocumented. Even where laws exist, undocumented migrants face hurdles, risks and fears of being reported and deported, as well as limitations on the entitlements granted. The right to health is a case in point, as governments struggle with rising immigration, budgetary priorities, increased security concerns and public opinion. In the case of the United Kingdom, though prior to 2004 there was no explicit legislation governing the right of undocumented migrants to health care, access was still largely available to them. After that date, revised National Health System regulations explicitly refer to "illegal immigrants", establish procedures for reporting them to the authorities and require migrants to provide proof of legal residence. (16)

While most immigrant workers have been, and continue to be, prepared for a trade-off­low pay and socio-economic challenges in exchange for the opportunity to earn higher wages and live peacefully abroad­sending and receiving countries have not always fulfilled their end of the tacit bargain when it comes to human rights.

Similarly, in 2002, France passed a law requiring undocumented migrants to pay part of their medical treatment. Those unable to prove they had been in the country for more than three months could not seek state medical assistance except in the event of an emergency or for treatment of a life-threatening condition. In response, the International Federation for Human Rights lodged a complaint with the Committee on Social Rights of the Council of Europe. In 2004, the Committee ruled that "legislation or practice that denies entitlement to medical assistance to foreign nationals, within the territory of a State Party, even if they are there illegally, is contrary to the Charter". (17)

In Berlin, the Büro für medizinische Flüchtlingshilfe was established in 1996 as an anti-racist, non-governmental resource providing free and anonymous medical treatment twice a week for undocumented migrants and refugees. There are now offices throughout Germany that are all loosely connected under the "No One Is Illegal" campaign. In addition, some charity and church organizations are extending medical aid to include undocumented migrants. Under the "Protection Against Infection Act" (2000), public health offices offer access to anonymous and free diagnosis and treatment, including for tubercu¬losis and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Hospitals, emergency units and general practitioners are also legally obligated to provide medical treatment regardless of health insurance or residency status. (18) However, as in other countries, translating policy into practice is no straightforward task. Undocumented migrants may be unaware of their legal entitlements, and they and their health providers may be unsure of the overall implications of new laws and procedures.

A sustained effort to protect the human rights of migrants is unlikely to take hold until policymakers, and the public at large, recognize that the relationship between immigrants and their host society is mutually beneficial. This also includes the understanding that, in many contexts, immigration is also a necessity­something that a number of governments are increasingly acknowledging. Although migrants play a vital role in the social and economic sphere, their contribution is not always valued. A major­though often unspoken­obstacle to acceptance into the host society is xenophobia, as well as the gender, ethnic, class and other forms of discrimination that only add to the challenges that immigrants face.