An international consultation on 'Ecumenical Advocacy for the Protection of the Human Rights of Migrant Workers in the Arabian Gulf Region' is currently taking place from 29 April to 2 May 2012 at the Santhigiri Ashram in Kerala, India. The consultation was organised by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
His Eminence Metropolitan Dr Joseph Mar Thoma inaugurated the consultation. Describing the experience of migrant workers and the Diaspora in the Arabian Gulf countries during the past four decades, Mar Thoma stated that “our theological and biblical imperatives call us to be engaged in a mission and prophetic witness to protect the rights and dignity of the stranger, the alien and the suffering who are in our midst”.
The consultation was organised jointly with the Christian Conference of Asia and attended by representatives of churches, ecumenical organisations and specialised ministries from the Middle-East, Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as representatives of migrant workers from the Arabian Gulf countries.
In a thematic address on “Human Rights of Migrant Workers and International Protection Mechanisms”, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA, stated that “The human rights and labour rights were recognised by the International Labour Organisation since 1919 and by the United Nations (UN) since its inception, particularly since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families in 1990. Yet the lack of adequate protection mechanisms at the national levels in migrant workers’ sending and receiving countries make the Convention less effective. This warrants urgency regarding the need for more effective advocacy at national and global levels”.
Fr Tesfa Endale from the Dubai Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, reflected on the situation of Ethiopian migrant workers in the Gulf, saying “the most vulnerable among the Ethiopian migrant workers are the domestic workers. They work in prison-like conditions and face persecution, ill-treatment and physical abuse by their employers.”
“The Kafaala sponsorship system, which ties workers’ visas to individual employers who serve as immigration sponsors in lieu of state authorities, violates the rights and dignity of migrant workers,” observed Fr. John Van Deerlin, Episcopal Delegate for Migrant Affairs, Apostolicate Vicariate of Southern Arabia of the Roman Catholic Church.
Reports on situations of migrant workers, who live in labour camps in Arab countries was shared by Dr. Audeh Quawas, moderator of the working group on the rights of migrant workers of CCIA and the Rev Catherine Graham, coordinator of the Anglican Refugee and Migrant Network.
The consultation was organised as part of a study process initiated by the CCIA working group on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Stateless People. A report from this consultation will be presented to the next meeting of the CCIA in Nanjing, China in June 2012.