ILO and SDC launch new programme to protect migrant workers in vulnerable situations in the Arab States, with a focus on workers from Africa

The FAIRWAY Programme, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by ILO, responds to the need to ensure decent work for migrant workers, including in sectors where they are at high risk of exploitation, such as in domestic work, construction and hospitality, and will support interregional collaboration between countries in Africa and the Middle East.

News | 30 March 2020
©Leila Alaoui/ILO
ILO NEWS (BEIRUT, ABIDJAN) - A new four-year inter-regional programme will work to protect women and men migrant workers from African countries who are working in the Middle East. The FAIRWAY Programme, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) builds on a previous ILO project in the Middle East, which supported tripartite constituents in Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain from 2016 to 2019.

Now encompassing work in East, West and North Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Morocco), the new programme will address underlying causes of decent work deficits that start at the recruitment, pre-departure and deployment stages.

“The ILO welcomes the launch of the FAIRWAY Programme,  a major initiative to deliver support to countries across regions linked by increasing labour migration flows, those between Africa and the Arab States,” said Michelle Leighton, Chief of the ILO’s Labour Migration Branch.  “It will help ILO constituents to demonstrate the positive contribution migration can make to labour markets and economies. It will also be an important means for the ILO to deepen and scale up its work on labour migration, as committed by the ILO Centenary Declaration.”

SDC contributes over 9 million USD to the FAIRWAY Programme, which aligns with its Global Programme Migration and Development Strategic Framework 2018–2021. “With the FAIRWAY Program, SDC addresses the challenges and opportunities of migration in a spirit of partnership across different regions, acknowledging the important contribution that migrants make for sustainable development and inclusive growth, as recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, said Simone Giger, Head of SDC’s Global Programme Migration and Development.

The ILO, through FAIRWAY, will be able to provide technical assistance in a number of critical areas including:
  • Engaging workers’ organizations, employers’ organizations and the private sector in countries of origin and destination to promote fair recruitment and decent working conditions;
  • Developing gender-responsive policy frameworks for fair recruitment, decent work and regulatory compliance;
  • Tackling discriminatory attitudes towards women and men migrant workers;
  • Improving access to information and support services throughout the migration cycle; and 
  • Promoting opportunities for constructive and evidence-based inter-regional dialogue to foster multilateral cooperation.
The ILO Regional Director for Arab States, Ruba Jaradat, welcomed the continued support of the Swiss government to ensuring decent work for migrant workers in the region. “The interventions are anchored in the successes and lessons learnt from the past three and a half years of the FAIRWAY Middle East Project,” Jaradat said. “FAIRWAY reached thousands of migrant workers through support to migrant worker associations and trade union federations, as well as outreach through traditional and social media to promote positive attitudes towards migrant workers” she continued.

The ILO estimated that in 2017, the Arab States hosted 23 million migrant workers, with 9 million (39 per cent) women migrant workers. The majority of these workers were from Asia, with a sizeable number from Africa, especially Egypt, and increasingly from East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda).

Recognizing the importance of the FAIRWAY programme to the Africa region, Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Regional Director for Africa, said, “Labour migration and mobility from Africa to the Arab States is expected to increase in the coming years. The FAIRWAY programme provides an opportunity for the ILO and its tripartite constituents to address the major risks of migration and to support the development of policies, strategies and services in countries of origin that provide better protection to migrant workers while they are employed in the Arab States”.  Linking the project to the existing continental Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP), Samuel-Olonjuwon added that the “FAIRWAY programme will support the implementation of the JLMP by addressing the decent work deficits for migration workers in the Africa – Middle East corridor, thereby contributing to the Implementation of the Abidjan Declaration adopted by the ILO 14th African Regional Meeting.”

Despite a number of major reforms in the region anticipated in 2020, particularly relating to the sponsorship system, decent work deficits remain a reality for many migrant workers, including deceptive, fraudulent and abusive recruitment.  Additionally hiring practices that can lead to forced labour and debt bondage, cases of abuse and exploitation, poor working conditions, limited voice and representation, and barriers to accessing justice are common. Returning home, migrant workers can also face difficulties in reintegrating into local labour markets or moving out of low-skilled jobs, at times pushing them to re-migrate. These issues have their roots in a combination of governance, institutional, and social challenges, which the FAIRWAY Programme will aim to address in the participating countries.

For further information, please visit the FAIRWAY project page (, the ILO’s Regional Office for Arab States labour migration page, the ILO’s Regional Office for Africa labour migration page and the ILO’s global labour migration page.