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Terre des Hommes Netherlands launched a new report in Bangkok on 26 May titled ‘Open Borders: Comparative Study of the Potential Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community on Child Migration and Trafficking’. The report finds that migrants face exploitation risks when moving both formally and informally within the EU and southeast Asia.

The report states that migrants who choose to migrate through formal means may still face legal extortion in the form of unreasonably high fees and long, complicated processes for obtaining registration papers and travel documents.

Information from current policy and practice

The study draws from policies and practices in both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU), where 22 member states maintain an open border under the Schengen Agreement. Policies of countries with high numbers of low-skilled migrant workers, including children, do not allow equal access to health, education and welfare services for these workers and their kids, and contribute to increasing numbers of minors living without their parents in countries of origin.

“Children of migrant workers and kids who migrate for work themselves do not necessarily need special protection measures, unless they become at risk of exploitation and abuse. The best support for these children is to provide them with equal access to shelter, education and health services and to change migration policies in ASEAN so that they do not result in the high levels of family separation that currently occur,” said Stefan Stoyanov, Technical Expert from Terre des Hommes Netherlands.

What will happen now the ASEAN Economic Community is up and running?

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was established in 2015 to transform ASEAN into “a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.” Many have anticipated that the launch of the AEC would promote safer migration within the region by enabling workers to find jobs and cross borders through legal channels – thereby reducing exploitative practices in the workplace, as well as along migration routes. Observers have cautioned, however, that free movement of labour must be accompanied by proper protections to prevent such exploitation.

What we want to see

The report concludes with policy recommendations in the ASEAN and its member states, which would contribute to reduced risks of of exploitation and trafficking for child and adult low-skilled migrant workers – and migrant workers’ children – both in countries of origin and in destination countries.

“We are calling on ASEAN member states and relevant ASEAN bodies to take into consideration the contribution of low-skilled migrant workers – both documented and undocumented and including children and young people – to the economies of both origin and destination countries, and to ensure that ASEAN and national law and policy making reflects that contribution.”

“Recognising the positive steps already taken in that direction, the Destination Unknown campaign is calling for new ASEAN-wide approaches aimed at regulating and regularising low-skilled migrant labour,” Stefan Stoyanov concluded.

You can read the full conference report here.

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