UN Global Compact on Migration Regional Review in the Arab Region

The UN Global Compact on Migration Regional Review for Arab States was held online on 24-25 February 2021. Najwa Hanna, PSI Sub-regional Secretary for Arab Countries, represented the voice of affiliates in the region, highlighting key priority issues, such as access to health services as a human right, inclusive social protection and the right to organize for migrant and refugee workers in the Arab Region.

I’m speaking in my capacity as Sub-regional Secretary for Arab countries of Public Services International, the global federation of public service trade unions. My presentation will focus on the challenges as well as good practice examples from public service trade unions in the implementation in the Arab Region of the UN Global Compact on Migration Objective 15 (Access to basic services for migrants), Objective 16 (Inclusion and social cohesion), and Objective 22 (Social security entitlement and earned benefits).

PSI is committed in its Plan of action (2017-2022) to advocate for the rights-based approach in the global governance of migration, displacement and refugee issues and demand that states abide by their human rights obligations, as embodied in the UN and ILO conventions.

Data from UN shows that in 2019, the Arab States were hosting 35 million international migrants, of whom 31 per cent were women

Public service workers are key players in promoting human rights, safety and decent work for all workers, including migrant workers. As such, public service workers are at the frontlines defending inclusive and non-discriminatory access of all migrants to quality public services.

Data from UN shows that in 2019, the Arab States were hosting 35 million international migrants, of whom 31 per cent were women.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, many migrant workers in the Arab states lost their jobs, as they were laid off and stranded in host countries with no means to return to their home countries. It is worth noting that many of them work in the informal sector and sometimes without official work permits, which deprives them of benefiting from the social safety networks. Moreover, many migrants and refugee workers have limited or no access to health care.

In the midst of the pandemic crisis, public service workers in the Arab countries were at the frontlines providing health care, social services, municipal services, including access to water and sanitation, social assistance and other basic needs to their communities as well as to migrant workers. As essential workers providing these services, they are exposing themselves and their families to infection.

Working directly with migrants and refugees, our affiliates in Algeria, Kuwait, Jordan and Tunisia conducted humanitarian and awareness-raising actions and provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to migrants and used these occasions to raise awareness on infection prevention and control.

In Tunisia, a bilateral agreement is signed between the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health that stipulates that all migrant workers have the right to receive health care in public hospitals. PSI affiliates are playing a key role to ensure the good implementation of this agreement. Moreover, PSI affiliates in Tunisia joined their trade union center, UGTT, in advocating for the rights of migrant workers to organize and join trade unions, which became effective as of December 2020, when union membership cards were distributed to a number of migrant workers especially those coming from Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Algeria, the Civil Servants Workers and Workers in the Energy Sector have demanded their government to respect the provisions of the UN Migrant Workers Convention, which it has ratified in 1990.

PSI affiliates are fighting discrimination in alliance with civil society organizations and the wider trade union movement. Together with the Trade Union Network for Migrants in the Mediterranean and Sub Sahara (RSMMS), PSI affiliates in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria issued a statement calling for non-discrimination against migrants in access to necessary health care.

PSI affiliates in Kuwait, in coordination with their trade union centre (KTUF), convened regular meetings during the pandemic, engaging leaders of migrant worker associations to find solutions for their issues, such as matters related to expired residency, late salaries and unsafe living arrangements. The leadership of the Federation of Governmental Workers, a PSI affiliate, worked closely with the government Public Authority for Manpower to solve urgent issues raised by the migrant workers.

In conclusion, PSI affiliates in the Arab region are joining forces with partners in the region, including with other trade unions, Global Union Federations and civil society organizations, refugees and migrant-based organizations in defending the human rights of migrants and refugees. I have shared some examples, and the list could be longer.

However, more work needs to be done. We continue to work closely with our allies in continuing to amplify our demands:

  • to ensure access to health services as a human right, and that vaccines should be provided to everyone, including migrants and refugees regardless of migration status. Migrant and refugee issues should be addressed from a human rights perspective;

  • to demand for an Inclusive Social Protection as a response to the Covid-19 crisis and other disasters. This includes access to health care, labour rights, and social protection for migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons;

  • to advocate for the right to organize for all refugee and migrant workers, regardless of status. Most of the migrant and refugee workers are hired by the informal sector, and therefore do not benefit from the right to organize and could not benefit from the right to social dialogue, which is crucial in the creation and strengthening of an inclusive and sustainable social protection system.