Today, almost 175 million people are thought to be living outside their countries of origin. 86 million of them are workers. And the number is growing. More and more migrants are women. Poverty, famine, repression or war are their main reasons for moving. If they want a decent life for themselves and their families, they don't have much choice. The various migratory movements are chiefly towards the countries of the North. But more and more, these days, migrants are moving between the countries of the South. Almost half of all migrants live in developing countries.
For many of them, migration is a real lifeline, but all too often, they still face exploitation and abuse. Forced labour, low pay, bad working conditions, virtually no social protection, denial of freedom of association and trade union rights, discrimination, xenophobia and social exclusion - these are just some of the woes that rob migrants of the benefits they could have gained from working abroad.
The restrictive policies adopted by many governments have not stemmed the flow, and the security approach towards this very human trend has done no better. Instead, they have promoted irregular migration, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into clandestinity.
Today, people trafficking is worth seven billion dollars a year to networks that make their fortunes out of the world's most vulnerable people. Women and children are particularly subject to violence and ill-treatment. They are exploited by unscrupulous employers or reduced to servitude by the slave-traders of today. The migrants' irregular situation leaves them vulnerable to various kinds of abuse, discrimination and exploitation, both during transit and in their countries of destination.
New measures are urgently needed worldwide to improve the situation of all migrant workers and their families, and to safeguard their basic rights and dignity. Those rights already exist. They don't need to be invented. The ILO emphasizes that all its standards apply to all workers, including to migrants, whatever their situation may be. Two Conventions provide for equal treatment and equal opportunities. And a new United Nations Convention has also come into force.
Many countries are going to need migrants, men and women alike, in order to maintain living standards. It's high time these workers' rights were respected and their contribution to progress and a better of quality of life were recognized. Migrants contribute both to their host countries and to their countries of origin, to which they remit the equivalent of 90 billion dollars every year. That's more than all the development aid given by all the rich countries put together.
Protecting migrant workers will take some political willpower. The International Labour Organization, by adopting a multilateral framework for a rights-based approach to labour migration, will be the one to point the way. But trade union organizations can also make a vital difference. They can give migrants what they need most: a voice for their concerns and a springboard to justice and equality.