Labour migration

New EU-UN ‘PROTECT’ project supports women migrant workers and children in Southeast Asia

A new initiative launched by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) will help strengthen the rights of women migrant workers and children in Southeast Asia, while reducing their vulnerabilities.

Press release | 26 March 2024
Representatives of the European Union, Ministry of Labour and United Nations with participants at the PROTECT project launch. © ILO
Bangkok, 26 March 2024 - The European Union (EU) announces a financial support of € 13 million to the United Nations (UN) for a new initiative called ‘PROTECT’, which aims to strengthen the rights of women migrant workers, children, and at-risk groups in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The three-year PROTECT project will promote decent work and reduce vulnerabilities of those at risk by ensuring labour rights, preventing, and responding to violence against women and children, human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

H.E. Mr David Daly, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand said, “People worldwide are forced to leave their homes in search of opportunities and better lives. Along their journey in transit and at their destination, women migrant workers and children are at a higher risk. We are proud to continue supporting our UN partners in this new project aimed at addressing a global phenomenon at the regional level. Together with Thailand and other partner countries in the region, we will provide protection for women and children, strengthen migration governance, tackle human trafficking and migrant smuggling, as well as develop legal pathways for sustainable migration policy.”

There are 10.6 million migrants in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, of whom nearly half are women and 1.3 million are children. Migrants, especially those in low wage occupations, face many challenges including labour exploitation, human trafficking, violence and harassment. Women migrant workers are also more likely to end up in informal sectors where they are offered temporary jobs and little to no social protection. Children accompanying migrant workers face a high risk of abuse, exploitation and trafficking as well as inadequate access to child protection services.

‘PROTECT’ project will be implemented by four UN agencies namely the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The agencies will work with relevant stakeholders in four Southeast Asian countries to strengthen laws and policies, improve capacities and mechanisms to better protect target groups’ rights and increase access to information and services.

Commending the deepening partnership in Thailand by the Government, EU and UN as “a significant milestone” on migrant rights, Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator, said, “This joint EU-UN initiative will be crucial to advancing our common goal of protecting vulnerable migrant women and children. This is critical as nearly half of all migrant workers in the region are women while another 1.3 million are children. Safe migration with decent work enriches ASEAN by promoting sustainable growth and raising living standards for millions of households, especially the most disadvantaged. Equally important is to bring the private sector into dialogues on human rights due diligence. This enables the creation of safe and decent workspaces with an emphasis on women, especially in industries where they are at risk of exploitation.”

Noting the significance of the new project to the region, Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO Assistant Director General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific said, “Labour migration is a driver of economic and social development in countries of origin and destination, benefiting migrant workers, communities and employers alike. Migration governance policies and approaches need to be gender responsive , more inclusive and in line with international labour standards if we are to provide the protection and access to decent work that migrants deserve, which is critical for social justice.”

"Addressing the pervasive issue of violence and harassment against women migrant workers in Southeast Asia is imperative. Through this joint project, we will continue to champion their rights, safety, and dignity, working towards a future where all women migrants can live and work free from fear and exploitation,” said Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“Children on the move are incredibly vulnerable, especially in the context of labour migration,” said Debora Comini, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “They risk exploitation, abuse and violence; they are deprived of access to education, health, and social protection. Migration policies and practices must be child-sensitive and uphold the rights and best interest of every child, regardless of their migration status.”

“To break the cycle of exploitation and abuse, the protection of victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants before and during the criminal justice process is critical,” said Masood Karimipour, UNODC’s Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “Under this new project, UNODC will build on its work with law enforcement and justice counterparts in the region, ensuring that victims’ rights continue to be upheld and criminals held to account.”

The PROTECT project, which runs until December 2026, builds on the results and lessons learnt from two earlier EU-funded projects: ‘Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region’, which was implemented by ILO and UN Women, in collaboration with UNODC from 2018 to 2023 and ‘Protecting Children Affected by Migration in Southeast, South and Central Asia’ implemented by UNICEF from 2018 to 2022.

For Further information please contact:

Thanaporn Saleephol
Press and Information Officer, Delegation of the European Union to Thailand
Email: delegation-thailand-pi@eeas.europa.eu
Tel.: +66 2 305 2662

Steve Needham
ILO Asia-Pacific Senior Communication Officer
Email: needham@ilo.org
Tel.: +66 2 288 2482

Laura Gil
UNODC Communications Officer
Email: laura.gil@un.org
Tel.: +66 61 173 0864

Diego De La Rosa
UN Women Regional Communications Specialist
Email: diego.delarosa@unwomen.org
Tel.: +66995037177