Unaware of rights, exploited migrant and trafficked workers suffer in silence -research

RIO DE JANEIRO, July 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - M igrant workers in the textile, mining and construction sectors face exploitation and health risks linked to their work and living conditions but ignorance about their rights makes it hard for governments to protect them, researchers said on Friday.

A study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said migrants faced gruelling hours and risky conditions, and were forced to handle machinery, chemicals and other dangerous materials without proper training.

The 71 migrants interviewed, including 18 victims of trafficking, in Peru, Argentina and Kazakhstan did not understand the health risks they were facing such as mercury poisoning or tuberculosis, the study jointly published by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said.

Migrant and trafficked workers had little information about their rights even in countries with laws to protect them from exploitation, IOM said as it urged governments to provide migrants with information on their rights and better training for law enforcement officers.

“One of the key aspects for the lack of trust in law enforcement is that migrants (often) don’t know the law,” IOM official Vanessa Vaca told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires.

“They fear being deported if they go to a doctor or are found sitting on the street, even though that isn’t true.”

Vaca said there had been progress on legislation to prevent human trafficking for forced labour, but more needed to be done to make migrants and victims of human trafficking aware of their rights.

Most victims of human trafficking were recruited for work in dangerous conditions by family or community networks, the study said. And prospective migrants had little information about their future working conditions before travelling.

“... our study showed that people who were identified as trafficked worked longer hours, experienced more violence, had less freedom of movement, and were more likely to be deceived by recruiters,” said Rosilyne Borland, co-author of the research.

“But the research also shows that the larger population of migrant workers lived and worked in similar conditions, with similar health risks and consequences, even if not identified as trafficked,” Borland said in a statement.

There are an estimated 150 million migrant workers around the world, according to the International Labour Organization, which puts the number of people trapped in forced labour at around 21 million.