Webinar Series “Interventions from the South” – NGO Forums and Academic Engagements

Webinar Series “Interventions from the South” – NGO Forums and Academic Engagements


Migration, Logistics and Unequal Citizens in Contemporary Global Context

Webinar Series

“Interventions from the South: Theoretical Perspectives and Pragmatic Issues of Migration, Logistics and Unequal Citizens in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic 

        NGOs Forum and Academic Engagements

The webinar encompasses four themes: (1) Multidirectional Unequal Care and Unequal Rights (2) Precarious Conditions and the Legality/Illegality Divide of Migrant Workers; (3) Lawless Ocean: Fishermen at Sea; and (4) Transnational Care and Journalistic Activism During the Pandemic. Under the broad and diverse themes, the webinar inculcates the perspectives and experience of several NGOs across the breadth of the South-East Asian region. The NGO’s joining us under different themes  include:

(A)Multidirectional Unequal Care and Unequal Rights.

1. Transient Workers Count Too, Singapore.
Topic: Male Migrant Workers in Singapore, before and during the Pandemic.

Transient Workers Count Too or TWC2 advocates fair working conditions for migrant workers. The covid pandemic has resulted in massive transmission in the worker dormitories: one in six were infected. This has brought much-needed attention to this separate community. While dormitory plans have improved, some conditions have remained the same and others have further restricted their movements.

Among the issues that TWC2 has highlighted for years are high recruitment costs, contract substitution, salary entitlements during Covid-19, curtailed freedom of movement, Insufficient wage protection, and restricted job mobility. These are ongoing concerns and issues that we have researched and continue to bring to the attention of the government. The Covid-19, however, has caused a distraction from these long-term concerns to the more immediate issues of food, general necessities, medical care, internet connectivity, and care for the workers’ families during the months that the workers were not able to work and confined to dormitories or other isolation facilities.

In the months following the COVID-19 outbreak, Singapore witnessed a small number of new groups offering support for migrant workers. Cash donations and volunteer numbers emerged, and ground-up efforts delivered meals and a variety of other goods and services confined workers, as almost all foreign workers were simultaneously prevented from accessing public spaces. This generosity and compassion was welcomed in Singapore but may have resulted in a sense of complacency as new dormitories are built with improved specifications, and workers are further restricted from interaction with the resident community. This segregation from public spaces and an inability to engage in normal social interaction has helped to reinforce the idea that migrant workers are a social disamenity, best kept segregated. Housing them in dedicated facilities and restricting employment to specific sectors with dismally low salaries has encouraged fear of contact or proximity with these foreigners. The further removed they are from the resident community, the more difficulty they and NGOs face in raising their concerns and easier it becomes to remain ignorant of their needs and accepting of their unjust treatment.

2. Buku Jalanan, Malaysia.
Topic: Pandemic accommodate to the possibility of better education for the stateless and displaced communities and how to capture this in reality.

The existing gap of education inequalities widen and billions of children have been affected by school closure – the results of Covid-19 pandemic. Children poverty increases out of the widening of this education inequalities. However, Buku Jalanan Chow Kit (BJCK) is taking a step forward in trying to learn the lesson brought by the pandemic and bringing the best to our stateless children who for all this while have been denied entry to the formal education system in Malaysia. This school closure somehow created an equal playing field in a form that now all of the children are all studying from home. It created a radical inclusion for those children who have been denied access to formal education. Therefore, we are taking this situation as an opportunity to design a similar learning experience for our children at BJCK. We created a more inclusive and comprehensive project-based learning for our BJCK children while also equipping them with necessary tools that help them to learn effectively from home. Education now can be more agile, cross borders and more collaboration can be done from almost everywhere. This also created more access to education for every child regardless of their citizenship status. In creating this better normal for the future of education, we do address there are problems and inequalities created by school closure to marginalized children in regards to online learning shortcomings. Hence, we worked within all these possibilities and capturing this into the reality of better access to education for our stateless and displaced children.

3. Beyond Borders, Malaysia.
(** TBA)

(B)Controversies Over Legality/Illegality and Citizens/Noncitizens

1. Tenaganita, Malaysia
Topic: Weaponization and Criminalization of Migrant Workers in Malaysia. 

Malaysia is the largest receiving country of migrant labour in Asia.  Currently, there are about 2.2 million documented migrant workers. Though the numbers have never been confirmed by the government, there are about 4 million undocumented persons which include asylum seekers and stateless persons otherwise known as illegals. 80 % of the migrants come into Malaysia through the legal route / channel , and we know that another 20% come through the “jalan tikus” through the borders due to the situations in Myanmar, as well Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia. Undocumented persons are the groups of people who are seen as national security threats, as enemies to be flushed out. There are harsh and abusive conditions to be faced if a person is undocumented, more so if one is a migrant worker.   In the first instance, one must understand the root problem of the prevalence of undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia. While an incredibly huge amount of the undocumented population entered the country with valid documents, only to become undocumented due to being scammed and cheated by agents and employers, there is a significantly smaller population of undocumented foreign workers who are trying to take advantage of the employment opportunities in this country yet they are criminalized. While we acknowledge the presence of millions of undocumented workers in Malaysia as an issue, it should be addressed in a more comprehensive and transparent approach. This is not the time to address this issue when we have a serious pandemic that’s threatening our lives. In the presentation, we will be given an insight into the realities of the criminalization/weaponization of the undocumented person in Malaysia.

2. OKUP, Bangladesh.
Topic: Criminalization of Bangladeshi undocumented workers

There is no data on how many migrant workers leave the country unofficially. It is assumed that about one million Bangladeshis cross borders without authorization every year to find better employment abroad. Contrary, according to Bangladesh government statistics, more than half a million Bangladeshis migrate abroad through official channels every year for employment, mostly in the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries.

This paper highlights the issue of those migrant workers who migrate documented through official channels but ended up with criminal charges as undocumented workers. This is to note that the existing Kafala – employer-tied recruitment – system particularly in the Middle East countries does not allow migrant workers to change the employers even if the migrant workers face indescribable exploitations at the workplace, physical torture, mental cruelty at the hand of their employers. Many migrants who want to avoid undocumented status being left at the mercy of their employers often end up paying scanty wages and trap them in debt bondage.

For covering the shortfall of the crippled economy amid COVID 19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries deported some 250,000 Bangladeshi migrants already. The so-called undocumented workers were the first target of such deportation. In addition to the possible threat of deportation, Saudi Arabia, the country that shares the largest number of Bangladeshi migrant workers, announced to ease some of the contractual restrictions which gives the control over the lives of some 30 million migrant workers vulnerable to increasing abuse, exploitation, and future threats to being undocumented. While there is a perception that legalization of the undocumented workers may result in more irregular migration, this is actually a need of the time to legalize their status and implement migrant-friendly laws so that it addresses their humanitarian concern, and prevent exploitative and abusive situations.

3. TIWA, Taiwan.
Topic: Criminalization of undocumented migrants in Taiwan.

According to the Ministry of the Interior National Immigration Agency, Republic of China (Taiwan), up until June 2019, there is a total of 46,980 undocumented migrant workers. This population has always been viewed as one of the “national security concerns”. Recently, on the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented migrant workers are seen as a potential “breaching point” of infection. However, this instance of persecution should not be perceived as an entirely new phenomenon, but merely an extension of the vulnerability experienced by Taiwan’s undocumented migrant workers. In this presentation, we analyze Taiwan’s undocumented migrant workers’ struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the Taiwanese government’s general policies concerning undocumented migrant workers, and deliver our demands for better treatment to ease their dilemmas.

4. SUAKA, Indonesia.
Topic: Refugee in Transit-An Indonesia Case

Refugee conditions in Indonesia are having limited protections: no work rights, no formal education and also other rights. Even though the pandemic Indonesia government includes Refugees in the vulnerability list, in SUAKA records, there’s no significant impact on refugee lives. Lack of regulation is making the condition worse. Indonesia only has Presidential Decree No. 125/2016, which apparently creates a negative impact both on refugees and service providers. Immigration itself doesn’t have fair provisions to determine one should be behind the detention. This makes Immigration have the power to hold someone in detention without any fair trial process. In the presentation, SUAKA will elaborate on the refugee condition in Indonesia, especially during this pandemic by analyzing current regulation and its implementation, also our recommendation for a better future.

(C)Lawless Ocean:  Fishermen at Sea

1.Yilan Fishermen Union, Taiwan
Topic:  疫情揭開的漁業黑幕—權宜船誰來管?/ Uncovered: The seafood industry scandal during the pandemic – Who will regulate flag-of-convenience fishing vessels?


In this presentation, Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union (YMFU) will discuss the precariousness of migrant fishermen and the regulation of flag of convenience (FOC) ships during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will address four phenomena/problems that we have observed on the ground, including (1) How to achieve epidemic prevention and safeguard human rights for FOC ships that are moored in Taiwan’s ports due to the pandemic, (2) Examination on Govern Investment in the Operation of Foreign Flag Fishing Vessels Act, (3) FOC shipowners’ rights and duties and (4) Method of cracking down illegal fishing activities via regional cooperation. At this webinar, we will also put forward our demands for flexible contract termination and accommodation for fishermen to return to their home country, sanctions of foreign fishing vessels that are moored in Taiwan’s ports as well as strengthening fishermen and other sea labourers’ rights during the pandemic.

2. Greenpeace, South East Asia Branch.
Topic: Modern Slavery at Sea.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for US$10-23 billion a
year, in the global commercial fishing market that is expected to reach US$318 billion by 2022. The need to meet rising demand for seafood means that fishing vessels are venturing further and more frequently into the high seas. In these distant water fishing (DWF) areas, there are severe gaps in law enforcement that leads to inadequate protection for migrant fishers. Human rights abuses and forced labour have been identified onboard via multiple testimonies, as well as during the pre- departure phase of fishers’ migration journeys. Greenpeace Southeast Asia has conducted investigations into this critical issue of modern slavery at sea, and some key findings include widespread reports of unethical recruitment practices, degrading conditions, and indicators of forced labour in both offshore and DWF waters. During the pandemic, these IUU and modern slavery practices have only exacerbated the issues faced by migrant fishers that easily go under the radar of governments and legislative authorities. Therefore, Greenpeace Southeast Asia along with other stakeholders are pushing ASEAN Member States, particularly Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to take the lead in addressing IUU fishing and modern slavery at sea. As one of the core recommendations, this translates into ratifying and implementing the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C-188) that protects migrant fishers from human rights abuses on fishing vessels.

3. Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia(SBMI),Indonesia.
Topic: The blood tears behind the folds of Tuna sandwiches: Revealing the crimes of the Fishing Industry on migrant fishers in the Distant Water Fishing (DWF).

The seafood business industries have provided enormous profit for fisheries business players. It is also a matter of pride for a country when there is a significant increase in the value of exports generated by this industry. Unfortunately, this is not proportionally to the efforts to guarantee the protection and welfare of the migrant fishers who have worked hard as the main source of how this kind of profit can be achieved. SBMI will share experiences on how to reveal crimes on this multibillion-dollar fishing industry and carry out campaigns to combat trafficking on migrant fishers at the Distant Water Fishing.

(D)Transnational Care and Journalistic Activism During the Pandemic

1. Migrant Care, Indonesia.
Topic: Changing the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection’s Road Map during COVID 19

The covid-19 crisis creates an unprecedented impact on the global economy, business and workers, including those 9 million Indonesian Migrant Workers abroad, according to the World Bank data. Covid-19 has brought negative impacts to Indonesian migrant workers. According to the National Agency of Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BP2MI), there are 88, 700 Indonesian migrant workers who failed to be placed abroad; 146, 937 Indonesian migrant workers experienced termination of employment; 26,084 seafarers were repatriated. In addition to that, there are 1,542 Indonesian migrant workers around the world who tested positive for Covid-19. In total 263, 263 Indonesian migrant workers got directly affected by the pandemic. Indonesian migrant workers who still work in Malaysia, which implemented lockdown, experience this negative impact. Health services are limited to be accessed, while they have to face cut of wages, limited access to logistical assistance, starving, deportation, work termination, gender-based violence and violence against women.

Indonesian domestic migrant workers face the most vulnerabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic: Lockdown policies and restrictions on the space for movement in destination countries, make migrant domestic workers more vulnerable. Working hours are getting longer, there are no days off, there are no incentives to substitute for holidays, work is getting tougher, vulnerable to gender-based violence, increased physical burden and stress; not willing to report health conditions out of fear of being arrested by the security forces due to working without proper documentation; extra work without being given incentives to starvation; and layoffs, unpaid salaries, unable to send money to the family.

2. Domestic Caretakers Union Taoyuan(DCU), Taiwan.
Topic: 疫情下的看護移工照顧與勞動現場/ At the scene: Taiwan foreign caregivers’ care and labor during the global pandemic.


In this presentation, Domestic Caretakers Union Taoyuan (DCU) will talk about problems that foreign caregiver workers in Taiwan faced while the government imposed epidemic prevention measures. We found that some employers disallowed re-entry to foreign caregiver workers while other employers prohibited foreign caregiver workers and their care receivers to leave the house. Besides, foreign caregiver workers felt stressed out by the burden of long-term care under the global pandemic. At the same time, we will also share how the pandemic created a labour shortage, which created a bargaining chip for caregiver workers to negotiate better working conditions with their employers.

3. Migrante International, Phillipine.
Topic – Filipino Migrant Workers’ Struggle for Rights in the time of COVID19.

More than 400,000 Filipino migrant workers have been repatriated back to the Philippines, losing their livelihood due to the COVID19 pandemic. Thousands more remain stranded, suffering from hunger and lack of medical attention in their host countries and at shore awaiting repatriation assistance from the Philippine and host governments. The presentation will focus on the experiences and challenges faced by Filipino Migrant Workers, both land-based and sea-based in their assertion for rights, dignity, protection and justice in the context of a global pandemic.

Academicians Abstracts


Prof. Elaine Ho.
Assistant Dean, (FASS Research Division), National University of Singapore.
Topic: Informality during migration, ‘conversion’ within and across national spaces: eliciting moral ambivalence amongst informal brokers

Abstract: Conditions of precarity, irregularity, and illegality are often associated with informality. Yet the functional and analytical value of informality as a condition and process underpinning the migration industry and infrastructure has yet to be fully investigated. This paper considers first, how is informality constructed within national space and across national spaces during migration? Second, in the context of migration, what does informality reveal of the binaries associated with legality/illegality and morality/immorality? Third, what does inhabiting informality as a ‘negotiated space’ achieve for the various stakeholders who are involved in mediating migration? We address these questions through a study of how foreign domestic workers (FDWs) migrate from Myanmar to work in Singapore. Although FDWs can secure legal documents from Singapore (the receiving country), the government of Myanmar (the sending country) considered migration for domestic work illegal until it lifted a ban on such migration in April 2019. Even so, the government’s will to formalise and enforce legal migration in Myanmar has been lagging, alongside a lack of traction for multi-stakeholder collaboration in this direction. Through discussing informality during the recruitment, training and deployment stages, we draw attention to how informal brokers experience “moral ambivalence”, a condition which can be seen as a resource that illuminates new political and social subjectivities, as well as a means of managing risks and uncertainties during migration.


Prof. Lin Weiqiang
Assistant Professor, (Department of Geography), National University of Singapore.
Topic: Precarity for Motion: Lessons from COVID-19 and Aeromobilities.

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extreme hardship for a great swath of the world’s population. Although not always to the point of death, migrants have borne a significant brunt of the pandemic’s fallout. This paper seeks to contribute to debates on migrant precarity at this time, but not through delineating migrants’ border woes, social exclusion or local confinement again. Instead, it draws inspiration from mobilities theory – and ongoing research on airport labour – to trace how precarity can unfold in less perceptible ways deep within (aero)mobility’s infrastructures to support the motion. Such a stance exposes subtler forms of precarity that need not always entail territorial expressions of migrants’ plight, but rather the suspension of migrants within capital’s stricken flows. The paper hopes to uncover instances of such hidden precarities for motion, as well as encourage cognizance of the ‘dark side’ of even enduring migrancies during COVID-19.


Prof. Yeoh Seng-Guan
Associate Professor, (Social Anthropology), Monash University.
Topic: Foreign Migrant Workers in Malaysia in the time of Covid-19

Abstract: The Covid-19 global pandemic has laid bare the fault-lines of a range of inequities and vulnerabilities between and within nation-states. It has also brought to the fore creative expressions of cosmopolitan human solidarities in the face of widespread mortality, human isolation, and financial insecurity. For foreign migrant workers in Malaysia, this state of precarity has been arguably the most acute as they endure a barrage of employment, financial, and health upheavals far away from their families, friends, and homeland. This presentation will review how the Covid-19 pandemic has variedly impacted the situation of foreign migrant workers in Malaysia. 


Prof. Jorge Tigno
Professor, (Political Science), the University of the Philippines–Diliman.
Topic: Labour Migration and Migrant Rights in the Asia-Pacific.

Abstract: Labour migrants in the Asia-Pacific region are facing numerous challenges in relation to protecting and promoting their rights and welfare. These challenges are compounded by the fact that much of the cross-border labour flows take place outside of the formal mechanisms of government. Further complicating these challenges is the involvement of complex and myriad networks of recruitment entities and brokers. What is the nature of the challenges to migrant rights? Protecting and promoting the rights of migrants can be much improved by addressing several key areas – definitional, socio-political, occupational, and gender-related. In the end, no single country holds the answer. There is a need for multilateral, multi-level, and multi-stakeholder arrangements that will facilitate dialogue and cooperation as well as engender effective and innovative approaches to promoting the rights and welfare of migrants.


Prof. Liang Li-fang
Assistant Professor, (Department of Sociology), Dong-Hwa University.
Topic: The rights to care: Indonesian migrant live-in care workers and their stay behind children.

Abstract: The increased flow of migrant care workers from poorer countries to wealthier countries highlights the urgency of care labor deficits in the context of global aging. The group of migrants, most are women taking care of the elderly and disabled people in receiving countries and leave their children back home. The majority of migrant care workers I interviewed in my previous studies had kept moving forth and back between receiving and sending countries. Many of them had worked overseas for more than ten years. Their lived experiences demonstrate the trajectory of temporary labor migration. Migrant care workers in Taiwan are under the guest workers scheme. They are not entitled to the rights of family reunion and naturalization as Taiwanese citizens. Through exploring the experiences of transnational mothering of Indonesian migrant live-in care workers, this study aims to illustrate how they practice transnational childcare is constrained by their migratory status and migrant policy. Based on the research findings, this study moves further to argue migrant live-in care workers’ rights to care echoed to care justice.