Introduction, Vision and Aims

Introduction, Vision and Aims

The proposed network ‘Health Research Network for Migrant Workers in Asia’ will focus on the health issues of transnational migrant workers from South Asia and South-East Asia, the vast majority of whom work in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Malaysia. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates in 2017 that of 164 million migrant workers worldwide, 40.8% were in the Arab states, most of them from South East and South Asia [1]. Most are semi-skilled or unskilled labour, mainly on building sites, in factories, and in domestic work. More than 12 million labour migrants from South Asia (mainly India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) work in GCC and Malaysia with an annual influx of around 2.5 million [2]. Most are semi-skilled or unskilled labour, mainly on building sites, in factories, and in domestic work. The remittance which they bring back home comes at a great personal cost of deaths, injuries, and family separation.

Lack of scientific evidence on migrant workers’ health issues is the main problem to reducing the burden of disease. In the GCC countries and Malaysia, there is a huge need for studies that help ascertain, record and publish accurate causes of mortality and morbidity of migrant workers [3]. Health research and targeted health care and health education programmes for migrant workers have a very low priority within any host country and there is little international interest.

The vision of the proposed network is to ‘foster collaboration within academics of South Asia and South East Asia, the GCC countries, and Malaysia, and between academic and non-academic institutions and people to identify, understand and help address health problems, behaviours and related issues of migrant workers.

The proposed network aims to:
(a) encourage sharing knowledge and expertise in this under-researched area;
(b) initiate concerted efforts, collaboration and foster health research and prevention programmes on migrant workers from South Asia and South-East Asia in collaboration with universities, migrant related organisations, policy-makers and research and health institutions of host countries; and
(c) build and enhance the capacity of researchers from many disciplines interested in migrant workers’ health through education and research collaborations.

In the long run, we will develop the proposed network as a ‘reference group’ on the health of transnational labour migrant workers from South Asia and South-East Asia promoting and advocating for evidence-based health policy for policy planners of both sending and receiving countries.

There are two reasons why we need a much larger voice and collaboration from related disciplines (e.g., health, development studies, social science) and sectors (e.g. migration and labour organisations, migrant workers’ recruitment agencies, policy-makers, employers, media, politicians) to properly identify, research, better understand and address the health needs of migrant workers. First, we have experienced that the research community from both migrant-sending and receiving countries on the topic is very poor and dispersed resulting in limited research activities; this is also grossly due to the co-operation. Our broader network will bring together representatives from different sectors and disciplines and countries also from both receiving (GCC and Malaysia) and sending countries (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka). Secondly, academic researchers, particularly from South Asia and South-East Asia, may find it daunting to work on migrant workers’ health issue which is entangled with other complex sectors such as economy, labour and politics. The proposed multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral network will facilitate interaction and support among the people across these disciplines and sectors.

How will it contribute towards global goals?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 explicitly highlights the links between migration and development and for the first time migration is formally recognised in international development frameworks [4]. Our network will mainly contribute towards SDG target 3.8 to ‘achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. In most of the countries of GCC and Malaysia, access to quality health care for migrant workers is limited and health insurance coverage is poor resulting in high medical bills and often refusal to treat [5]. Migrant workers are often perceived as a burden to the local health care system [6]. There are media reports of migrant workers returning home with serious work-related injuries and disabilities including paralysis [7]. To help achieve SDG target 3.8, the proposed network will enhance capacity and collaboration to generate research evidence on health status, access to health care services, and advocate for evidence-based policy.

Our network activities will also help achieve SDG target 8.8 to ‘protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment. Long-working hours, often continuously for months, are common in the GCC countries and Malaysia [8]. Many deaths (such as cardiac failures) and health issues (such as kidney health problems) could be related to prolonged working hours in extreme heat. In female migrant workers, physical torture and sexual abuse are frequently reported, particularly in domestic staff [9]. The proposed network is a shared platform to discuss these issues with people with local experience. To help achieve SDG target 8.8, it will promote collaborative research to identify health risks associated with and triggered by the working and living environment of migrants in the GCC countries and Malaysia.

This network will also complement the 17.18 target of SDG which is ‘to enhance capacity-building support to developing countries to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by several variables including migratory status’. The proposed network aims to provide a conducive environment and support for capacity building which could lead to high-quality data and strategic information on migrant workers’ health with concerted efforts from network members (majority will be from migrant-sending countries of South Asia and South-East Asia).

1. International Labour Organization. Labour Migration in Asia and Pacific [online]. Available at:–en/index.htm (accessed on February 19, 2021).
2. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and International Labour Organization. Labour market trends analysis and labour migration from South Asia to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, India and Malaysia. Kathmandu: Nepal 2015.
3. Aryal N, Regmi PR, van Teijlingen E, et al. Injury and mortality in young Nepalese migrant workers: a call for public health action. Asia Pacific J Public Health. 2016;28(8):703-705.
4. Foresti M, Hagen-Zanker J. Migration and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Overseas Development Institute; 2017.
5. Adhikary P, Keen S, Van Teijlingen E. Workplace accidents among Nepali male workers in the Middle East and Malaysia: a qualitative study. J Immigrant & Minority Health. 2018:1-8.
6. Low WY, Tong WT, Binns C. Migrant workers in Asia Pacific and their rights to health. Asia Pacific J Public Health. 2015;27:584-587.
7. Gibson O. Paralysed in Qatar: Nepalese workers trapped in Kafkaesque Gulf nightmare. The Guardian, 2014.
8. Sönmez S, Apostolopoulos Y, Tran D, Rentrope S. Human rights and health disparities for migrant workers in the UAE. Health Hum Rights. 2011;13(2) : E17-35.
9. Simkhada P, van Teijlingen E, Gurung M, et al. Survey of health problems of Nepalese female migrants workers in Middle-East & Malaysia. BMC Int Health Hum Rights 2018;18(1):4.