Migrant Workers Essential Workers Not Only in COVID-19

Migrant Workers Essential Workers Not Only in COVID-19

Sabina, a domestic worker from Bangladesh, has worked in Jordan for the past eight years, sending money home each month to her mother, sister and 11-year-old son who rely on her to survive. But with the COVID-19 crisis, she has been out of work for more than a month.

Jordan migrant worker from Bangladesh, Sabina, worker rights, COVID-19, Solidarity Center
Sabina, a migrant worker from Bangladesh in Jordan, had no food to eat after being without work due to COVID-19. Photo courtesy Sabina

“I haven’t eaten for five days,” she said. And neither has her son or family.

At least one-third of the 75,000 migrant domestic in Jordan have lost their incomes and in some cases, their jobs—a scenario repeated around the world as migrant workers, who often work in poverty-level jobs in countries that offer no legal protections or afford them safety nets such as unemployment pay are left stranded during the pandemic.

Some countries like Jordan even make it difficult for migrant workers to receive private contributions, with donations required to be coordinated through the Ministry of Social Development. Organizations such as the Alliance Against Violence and Harassment created a low-profile initiative to distribute packages to migrant workers, especially undocumented migrant workers who are most likely to be without employment now, by coordinating with private donors who provide food and other necessities.

Labor activists around the world report that migrant workers are sharing similar experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Although they pick our food and clean our houses, migrants and refugees are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when undocumented. More than 200 million migrant workers live and work in other countries, supporting another 800 million family members in their origin countries.

“The coronavirus is blind to borders, citizenship and migration status,” a global coalition comprising dozens of civil society organizations, including the Solidarity Center, say in a statement. “To save lives, public officials must take the lead in respecting non-discrimination and ensuring equal treatment for all, regardless of migration status.” The Solidarity Center also has joined its partners, the Women Migration Network and a coalition led by the Migrant Forum in Asia, in urging governments and employers to uphold the rights of migrant workers.

With the COVID-19 crisis, many are trapped in their destination countries, unable to return home because of closed borders or lack of money to pay for the trip. Often they are trapped by legal restrictions such as the kafala system, which ties workers to a single employer in many Gulf countries. Some are sent to crowded detention camps, where the coronavirus could rapidly spread. Others are forced to live and work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, picking produce, manufacturing “essential” products, cleaning shops or laboring in construction. They are left out of government support measures, without pay, access to health services or even food.

Unions and their allies are elevating the rights of migrant workers during the COVID-19 crisis, providing direct assistance even as they push for government recognition and support for those without jobs. They are negotiating with employers to provide masks, gloves and other safety gear, and are providing migrant workers with information on taking steps to protect themselves and their families. Below is a snapshot reported by Solidarity Center staff working with unions around the globe.

The Alliance Against Violence & Harassment in Jordan, a Solidarity Center partner, is demanding the government grant migrant workers legal residency during COVID-19, as many permits will expire during lockdown. The Alliance is also urging the government to grant assistance to migrant workers, who have little or no pay but cannot return to their country of origin. The Alliance also asks for safety gear for migrant workers still on the job. The domestic workers solidarity network in Jordan shares information on COVID-19 and its impact on workers in multiple languages on its Facebook page.

The Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan, a Solidarity Center partner, converted a hotel it owns into a field hospital for nearly 200 migrant workers who returned from other countries and were ordered into quarantine. Union members provided food and care for the returned workers. Kyrgyzstan migrant workers provide more than one-third of the country’s GDP in money they send home. The Solidarity Center, in coalition with labor and human rights groups, is gathering information on worker rights abuses throughout Central Asia, including migrant worker exploitation.

In Bangladesh, BOMSA, a migrant rights NGO, created COVID awareness-raising leaflets specifically for migrant domestic workers returning to Bangladesh from abroad. Members are distributing soap, disinfectant and other cleaning supplies, and encouraging workers to maintain social distance. Another migrant rights NGO, WARBE-DF, is distributing COVID-19 awareness-raising leaflets to returned migrant workers and their communities; and as thousands of migrant workers return, the organization is engaging in local government coronavirus response committees to ensure inclusion of migrant-specific responses. Both are longtime Solidarity Center partners.

Many migrant workers do not cross borders, but travel from rural villages to cities seeking employment. In Bangladesh’s Konbari area, garment workers who are internal migrants are not eligible for relief aid, which relies on voting lists for distribution. The Solidarity Center-supported Worker Center is connecting with local government officials and has provided nearly 200 names for relief, and is fielding more calls from internal migrant workers seeking assistance.

Tunisian migrant workers association, COVID-19, worker rights, Solidarity Center

Across Tunisia, unions and civil society organizations have joined to collect and distribute in-kind donations to assist migrant workers. The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) is among civil society organizations, Parliament members and other public leaders urging the government step up protection of migrants and refugees in Tunisia to ensure their right to health is guaranteed in the same way as all Tunisians. The group also called on the government to examine alternatives to detention of refugees and migrants who are vulnerable to disease and stranded in the El Ouardia and Ben Guerdan centers.

The UGTT defends all citizens and migrant workers, says UGTT spokesperson Sami Al-Tahiri.

“We are all human beings, irrespective of gender, race or religion. Diversity does not negate the unity of humanity across the world.”

In Sri Lanka, where borders closed March 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented an online portal, Contact Sri Lanka, so migrant workers could register and be connected with embassies in the countries where they work. Some 17,000 registered last week, more than 6,000 of whom are working in Gulf countries. The Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait is making travel documents available online so migrant workers will not need to apply for them in person.

Kuwait has offered an amnesty period through April enabling migrant workers without documents to travel home, and the Kuwait Trade Union Federation is urging the government to quickly address migrant workers basic needs, including facilitating access to health care. The workers are now housed in 12 shelters until travel arrangements are made.

Solidarity Center partner, Turkmen.News, produced a widely distributed video on migration, the coronavirus and state indifference to their plight.

Workers Rights Key to Ending Trafficking

Workers Rights Key to Ending Trafficking

Imagine the population of New York City. Then triple that number. That’s how many people around the world are being robbed of their freedom through human trafficking—24.9 million.

While “trafficking” seems to imply movement across borders, some 77 percent of those targeted by human traffickers do not leave their country of residence, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Most are trafficked for forced labor, one-third are children.

Human trafficking, labor migration, Tom Lantos Committee on Human Rights, Neha Misra, Solidarity Center

Solidarity Center’s Neha Misra testified on Capital Hill on the need for worker rights in forming unions and bargaining as key to ending human trafficking. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

“Human trafficking thrives in a context of private actors and economic coercion,” says Neha Misra, testifying recently on Capitol Hill before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We must address what one leading global expert on the international law of human trafficking calls the ‘underlying structures that perpetuate and reward exploitation, including a global economy that relies heavily on exploitation of poor people’s labor to maintain growth and a global migration system that entrenches vulnerability and contributes directly to trafficking,’ ” says Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist for migration and human trafficking. Trafficking and severe labor exploitation are part of a continuum of labor exploitation and abusive working conditions workers face around the world in workplaces as diverse as factories, farms and offices.

The Lantos hearing was part of a series of congressional events in January around U.S. Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which marks the date Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. That same year, the United Nations passed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol). As part of the TVPA, the U.S. State Department each year issues a detailed report on trafficking in persons, ranking countries on the extent to which they are addressing and eliminating it.

Since then, global nations have a clearer understanding of human trafficking—including its direct connection to forced labor and exploitation—and 168 governments have implemented domestic legislation criminalizing all forms of human trafficking, transnationally and nationally.

Yet as indicated by the staggering number of those trafficked, much more needs to be done.

“Over the past 20 years, the extent of forced labor in global supply chains has become increasingly clear. And yet, governments continue to fail to hold corporations to account,” says Misra.

Migrant Workers, Domestic Workers Targets of Trafficking

migrant workers, domestic workers, UN, Solidarity CenterIsolated in private homes, domestic workers, whether nationals or migrants, are particularly at risk of exploitation, harassment and abuse, including sexual violence—and have difficulty accessing justice. Domestic workers, who comprise 11.5 million migrant workers—are also among the largest group of trafficked migrant workers and are vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labor—within their home countries, as internal migrants, and as cross-border migrants.

“Recognizing domestic workers as workers is key to combatting the vulnerability they face to human trafficking,” says Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center senior program officer for the Americas. De Simone spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing Friday sponsored by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

A domestic worker who requested anonymity described at the briefing the abusive conditions she experienced after a diplomat brought her from Chile to the United States in 2009. She was promised fair wages and benefits, but after she started working, the family refused to pay her. Her employers withheld food, stole her passport, and threatened her with deportation if she talked with anyone outside the household—an all-too common experience for domestic workers worldwide.

Collective Action Key to Ending Trafficking, Forced Labor

Combating human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of severe labor exploitation means putting worker rights at the forefront of solutions.

The 2011 ILO convention (global treaty) covering domestic workers “has raised the bar globally for states and employers to recognize and enforce the labor rights of domestic workers,” says De Simone.

Domestic workers around the world educated and mobilized for passage of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, along the way helping workers understand that violence, abuse, coercion and intimidation are not part of the job. “And that recognition, that righteous indignation, is often the spark for organizing that helps us end the imbalance of power,” says De Simone.

Human trafficking, domestic workers, Pramila Jayapal, Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center

“Recognizing domestic workers as workers is key to combatting the vulnerability they face to human trafficking”—Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Yet not only international law, but on-the-ground grassroots union organizing and building power among domestic workers is key to combating vulnerability to trafficking, she says. “Union contracts are helping domestic workers worldwide ensure their rights to safe jobs without forced labor and human trafficking.”

De Simone cited examples of how union collective bargaining agreements have improved conditions for domestic workers in Argentina, Uruguay and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and shared the success of domestic workers in Mexico who ensured the country’s new labor law includes domestic workers—often among an excluded group of workers in many country’s labor laws.

Unions also are reaching across borders, building union-to-union relationships between countries of origin and destination like Paraguay and Argentina, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Nepal and Lebanon.

But “freedom of association must be assured in practice, not just law,” says Misra. “This means strict penalties for employers who fire, retaliate against or collude with government officials to deport migrant workers seeking to form unions.”

Says Misra: “From rubber plantations in Liberia, garment factories in Jordan and to domestic workers’ households in Kenya, Solidarity Center has seen time and again how democratic worker organizing and collective bargaining can eliminate forced labor in a workplace.”

Workers Rights Key to Ending Trafficking

Workers Rights Key to Ending Trafficking

Imagine the population of New York City. Then triple that number. That’s how many people around the world are being robbed of their freedom through human trafficking—24.9 million.

While “trafficking” seems to imply movement across borders, some 77 percent of those targeted by human traffickers do not leave their country of residence, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Most are trafficked for forced labor, one-third are children.

Human trafficking, labor migration, Tom Lantos Committee on Human Rights, Neha Misra, Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center’s Neha Misra testified on Capital Hill on the need for worker rights in forming unions and bargaining as key to ending human trafficking. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

“Human trafficking thrives in a context of private actors and economic coercion,” says Neha Misra, testifying recently on Capitol Hill before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We must address what one leading global expert on the international law of human trafficking calls the ‘underlying structures that perpetuate and reward exploitation, including a global economy that relies heavily on exploitation of poor people’s labor to maintain growth and a global migration system that entrenches vulnerability and contributes directly to trafficking,’ ” says Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist for migration and human trafficking. Trafficking and severe labor exploitation are part of a continuum of labor exploitation and abusive working conditions workers face around the world in workplaces as diverse as factories, farms and offices.

The Lantos hearing was part of a series of congressional events in January around U.S. Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which marks the date Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. That same year, the United Nations passed the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol). As part of the TVPA, the U.S. State Department each year issues a detailed report on trafficking in persons, ranking countries on the extent to which they are addressing and eliminating it.

Since then, global nations have a clearer understanding of human trafficking—including its direct connection to forced labor and exploitation—and 168 governments have implemented domestic legislation criminalizing all forms of human trafficking, transnationally and nationally.

Yet as indicated by the staggering number of those trafficked, much more needs to be done.

“Over the past 20 years, the extent of forced labor in global supply chains has become increasingly clear. And yet, governments continue to fail to hold corporations to account,” says Misra.

Migrant Workers, Domestic Workers Targets of Trafficking

migrant workers, domestic workers, UN, Solidarity Center

Isolated in private homes, domestic workers, whether nationals or migrants, are particularly at risk of exploitation, harassment and abuse, including sexual violence—and have difficulty accessing justice. Domestic workers, who comprise 11.5 million migrant workers—are also among the largest group of trafficked migrant workers and are vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labor—within their home countries, as internal migrants, and as cross-border migrants.

“Recognizing domestic workers as workers is key to combatting the vulnerability they face to human trafficking,” says Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center senior program officer for the Americas. De Simone spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing Friday sponsored by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

A domestic worker who requested anonymity described at the briefing the abusive conditions she experienced after a diplomat brought her from Chile to the United States in 2009. She was promised fair wages and benefits, but after she started working, the family refused to pay her. Her employers withheld food, stole her passport, and threatened her with deportation if she talked with anyone outside the household—an all-too common experience for domestic workers worldwide.

Collective Action Key to Ending Trafficking, Forced Labor

Combating human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of severe labor exploitation means putting worker rights at the forefront of solutions.

The 2011 ILO convention (global treaty) covering domestic workers “has raised the bar globally for states and employers to recognize and enforce the labor rights of domestic workers,” says De Simone.

Domestic workers around the world educated and mobilized for passage of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, along the way helping workers understand that violence, abuse, coercion and intimidation are not part of the job. “And that recognition, that righteous indignation, is often the spark for organizing that helps us end the imbalance of power,” says De Simone.

Human trafficking, domestic workers, Pramila Jayapal, Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center
“Recognizing domestic workers as workers is key to combatting the vulnerability they face to human trafficking”—Alexis De Simone, Solidarity Center. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Yet not only international law, but on-the-ground grassroots union organizing and building power among domestic workers is key to combating vulnerability to trafficking, she says. “Union contracts are helping domestic workers worldwide ensure their rights to safe jobs without forced labor and human trafficking.”

De Simone cited examples of how union collective bargaining agreements have improved conditions for domestic workers in Argentina, Uruguay and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and shared the success of domestic workers in Mexico who ensured the country’s new labor law includes domestic workers—often among an excluded group of workers in many country’s labor laws.

Unions also are reaching across borders, building union-to-union relationships between countries of origin and destination like Paraguay and Argentina, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Nepal and Lebanon.

But “freedom of association must be assured in practice, not just law,” says Misra. “This means strict penalties for employers who fire, retaliate against or collude with government officials to deport migrant workers seeking to form unions.”

Says Misra: “From rubber plantations in Liberia, garment factories in Jordan and to domestic workers’ households in Kenya, Solidarity Center has seen time and again how democratic worker organizing and collective bargaining can eliminate forced labor in a workplace.”

A First of Its Kind: Kyrgyz Migrant Workers’ Union

A First of Its Kind: Kyrgyz Migrant Workers’ Union

Since the start of 2019, more than 2,000 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan have joined together to protect their rights abroad through the new Migrant Workers’ Union. On October 17, more than 100 union delegates came together in the town of Isfana, Kyrgyzstan, for the union’s founding congress.

Solidarity Center, Kyrgyzstan, migrant workers, worker rights, human rights

Newly elected deputy chairwoman of the Migrant Workers’ Union, Batyrova Kanykey, addresses more than 100 delegates at their founding congress. Credit: Elena Rubtsova

The congress marks a crucial step as the union establishes itself as a leading support system for migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan. Delegates cast their votes to elect union leadership and planned activities and outreach to more workers in the coming year.
Workers from across three regions of western Kyrgyzstan—Batken, Jalal-Abad and Osh—worked together to build this new organization, with support from the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek, a local foundation that provided assistance to migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan over the last five years. The union has also garnered support from the Germany-based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Caritas France.

Insan-Leilek celebrated the milestone with a video in Russian.

Protecting Workers Abroad

Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, and from around the world, often face discrimination, exploitation and unsafe working conditions when they arrive in their destination countries. In Russia, a common destination for Kyrgyz migrants, workers have reported working without official contracts or having their wages stolen, with few opportunities to stand up for their rights and hold their employers accountable. Kyrgyz workers also travel to Kazakhstan, Germany and elsewhere for work. Many stay year-round, while others travel back and forth each year for seasonal jobs.

“A large number of labor migrants are subjected to exploitation and violation of their rights by employers, employment agencies and other intermediaries,” says Gulnara Derbisheva, a human rights activist in Kyrgyzstan and the leader of Insan-Leilek. “They face abuse of authority by the police and other officials. In some cases, labor migrants are victims of trafficking and forced labor.”

Since 2015, the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek have held pre-departure trainings for working women and men who are preparing to migrate abroad, most of them to Russia. Through these trainings, thousands of migrants have learned about their rights and the protections they have under Russian labor law. Armed with this knowledge, many workers have started exercising their rights the moment they arrive at their new jobs.

Many migrants have used their knowledge of Russian labor law to negotiate higher wages and overtime pay. Others have worked with their employers to ensure they have fully signed contracts that specify their working conditions and document their ability to work in the country. Migrant women have also learned how to protect their rights, including avoiding human traffickers and reporting workplace harassment.

The Solidarity Center also provides training participants with contact information for local legal support in their destination countries. Through hotlines and free consultations, workers can seek legal help if or when they encounter issues on the job, such as wage theft and harassment.

The Solidarity Center’s pre-departure trainings have also shown migrants how they can join trade unions to further protect their rights, even when they are working abroad. As a result, workers decided they should create their own union so they could tailor it to support Kyrgyz migrants.

Migrant Workers Organizing for Justice

The creation of the Migrant Workers’ Union, its members say, is not just timely but also necessary to protect their rights at a time when more than one-fifth of Kyrgyz citizens are living and working abroad.

Gulzat, a delegate at the congress from the village of Boz-Adyr in the Batken region, first heard about the union at a training session the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek held in her village earlier in 2019. “I learned many important things about my labor rights and how they could be protected,” she says. “It was then that I decided to join the Migrant Workers’ Union because I am going back to work in Russia.”

Gulzat first went to work in Russia in 2010, where she experienced wage theft firsthand. “I became a dishwasher in a Moscow cafe and was a victim of fraud when I was left without a salary,” she explains. “I didn’t know where to turn for help, but now I know.”

The Migrant Workers’ Union currently has 2,150 members. But the union’s protections extend beyond just its members. Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan rely on decent wages not only for themselves but also to support their families back home. Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan remitted an estimated $2.48 billion in 2018, about 34 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Since 2017, Kyrgyzstan has been the most remittance-dependent country in the world, and remittances are particularly important in its western regions like Batken. As migrant workers learn to defend their rights abroad, they also ensure their families in Kyrgyzstan can have more economic security and access more opportunities at home.

“Everybody needs their union,” says Gulzat. “Especially migrants.”

A First of Its Kind: Kyrgyz Migrant Workers’ Union

A First of Its Kind: Kyrgyz Migrant Workers’ Union

Since the start of 2019, more than 2,000 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan have joined together to protect their rights abroad through the new Migrant Workers’ Union. On October 17, more than 100 union delegates came together in the town of Isfana, Kyrgyzstan, for the union’s founding congress.

Solidarity Center, Kyrgyzstan, migrant workers, worker rights, human rights

Newly elected deputy chairwoman of the Migrant Workers’ Union, Batyrova Kanykey, addresses more than 100 delegates at their founding congress. Credit: Elena Rubtsova

The congress marks a crucial step as the union establishes itself as a leading support system for migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan. Delegates cast their votes to elect union leadership and planned activities and outreach to more workers in the coming year.
Workers from across three regions of western Kyrgyzstan—Batken, Jalal-Abad and Osh—worked together to build this new organization, with support from the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek, a local foundation that provided assistance to migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan over the last five years. The union has also garnered support from the Germany-based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Caritas France.

Insan-Leilek celebrated the milestone with a video in Russian.

Protecting Workers Abroad

Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan, and from around the world, often face discrimination, exploitation and unsafe working conditions when they arrive in their destination countries. In Russia, a common destination for Kyrgyz migrants, workers have reported working without official contracts or having their wages stolen, with few opportunities to stand up for their rights and hold their employers accountable. Kyrgyz workers also travel to Kazakhstan, Germany and elsewhere for work. Many stay year-round, while others travel back and forth each year for seasonal jobs.

“A large number of labor migrants are subjected to exploitation and violation of their rights by employers, employment agencies and other intermediaries,” says Gulnara Derbisheva, a human rights activist in Kyrgyzstan and the leader of Insan-Leilek. “They face abuse of authority by the police and other officials. In some cases, labor migrants are victims of trafficking and forced labor.”

Since 2015, the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek have held pre-departure trainings for working women and men who are preparing to migrate abroad, most of them to Russia. Through these trainings, thousands of migrants have learned about their rights and the protections they have under Russian labor law. Armed with this knowledge, many workers have started exercising their rights the moment they arrive at their new jobs.

Many migrants have used their knowledge of Russian labor law to negotiate higher wages and overtime pay. Others have worked with their employers to ensure they have fully signed contracts that specify their working conditions and document their ability to work in the country. Migrant women have also learned how to protect their rights, including avoiding human traffickers and reporting workplace harassment.

The Solidarity Center also provides training participants with contact information for local legal support in their destination countries. Through hotlines and free consultations, workers can seek legal help if or when they encounter issues on the job, such as wage theft and harassment.

The Solidarity Center’s pre-departure trainings have also shown migrants how they can join trade unions to further protect their rights, even when they are working abroad. As a result, workers decided they should create their own union so they could tailor it to support Kyrgyz migrants.

Migrant Workers Organizing for Justice

The creation of the Migrant Workers’ Union, its members say, is not just timely but also necessary to protect their rights at a time when more than one-fifth of Kyrgyz citizens are living and working abroad.

Gulzat, a delegate at the congress from the village of Boz-Adyr in the Batken region, first heard about the union at a training session the Solidarity Center and Insan-Leilek held in her village earlier in 2019. “I learned many important things about my labor rights and how they could be protected,” she says. “It was then that I decided to join the Migrant Workers’ Union because I am going back to work in Russia.”

Gulzat first went to work in Russia in 2010, where she experienced wage theft firsthand. “I became a dishwasher in a Moscow cafe and was a victim of fraud when I was left without a salary,” she explains. “I didn’t know where to turn for help, but now I know.”

The Migrant Workers’ Union currently has 2,150 members. But the union’s protections extend beyond just its members. Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan rely on decent wages not only for themselves but also to support their families back home. Migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan remitted an estimated $2.48 billion in 2018, about 34 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Since 2017, Kyrgyzstan has been the most remittance-dependent country in the world, and remittances are particularly important in its western regions like Batken. As migrant workers learn to defend their rights abroad, they also ensure their families in Kyrgyzstan can have more economic security and access more opportunities at home.

“Everybody needs their union,” says Gulzat. “Especially migrants.”

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