International Migration Convention

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) entered into force in July 2003 with the primary objective of protecting migrant workers and their families (a particularly vulnerable population) from exploitation and the violation of their human rights. The ICRMW was adopted on 18 December 1990 in New York. The rights of migrant workers are defined under two categories: 1. Human Rights of migrant workers and members of their families (applicable to all migrant workers (including undocumented migrants). 2. Other Rights of migrant workers and members of their families (applicable only to migrant workers in a regular situation). This convention is legally-binding.

The Human Rights of migrant workers and members of their families include basic freedoms(e.g. freedom of thought, conscience or religion), due process(e.g. they must be provided with necessary legal assistance, interpreters and information in a language understood by them), right to privacy (e.g. a migrant worker is entitled to his or her honour and reputation and also to privacy), equality with nationals(e.g. migrant workers are to be treated as equal to the nationals of the host country in respect of remuneration and conditions of work), transfer of earnings (e.g. migrant workers have the right to transfer their earnings and savings as well as their personal effects and belongings) and the right to information (e.g. information on their rights and obligations should be made available to migrant workers free of charge and in a language understood by them). 

Other Rights of migrant workers and members of their families include the right to be temporarily absent (e.g. temporary absence from work without effect on their authorisation to stay or work), freedom of movement (e.g. the right to move freely within the state of employment), equality with nationals (e.g. access to educational and social services), employment contract violations(e.g. in the event of contract violation, the right to address his or her case to the competent authorities in the state of employment) and the rights of undocumented workers(e.g. states concerned should impose sanctions on employers of undocumented workers).

Cambodia submitted its signature to ICRMW on 27 September 2004. Indonesia submitted its signature on 22 September 2004 and ratified this convention on 31 May 2012. The Philippines signed on 15 November 1993 and ratified on 5 July 1995. Only three of the ten ASEAN states have supported the ICRMW to date. In order to have a holistic perspective, it is pertinent to note that out of 193 UN member states, this convention houses only 39 signatories and 54 parties. None of the European states has ratified. The signatories are mainly developing states. There is also large African participation and minimal Asian engagement. In the context of migration, they are mainly origin or sending countries. Negotiations have taken place for more than a decade but the weak ratification status has not improved. This could be partially due to the fact that the ICRMW is legally binding.

There is no indication that ratification will strengthen in the near future. In view of this, the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), which is not legally binding, has the potential to include a larger number of states that proactively and willingly choose to adopt its framework. There is no compulsion to participate or sanction against non-participation. The GCM is perceived as an alternative to the ICRMW, with the intention of triggering voluntary action by states in the area of migration governance, based on a universal framework. The challenge would be to incorporate global standards into national policy practices; not just as a law in theory but as a law that can be enforced.

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