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International Companies Abandon Migrant Workers in Libyan Crisis

On March 2, 2011

Thousands of Asian migrant workers have been left to 'fend for themselves' in riot-hit Libya after their employers abandoned them. Many of these workers work as unskilled labourers in the construction sector.

Hossain Kabir, a Bangladeshi construction worker, told AFP that he had been trapped in a labour camp in the desert where he worked for a foreign engineering group. Kabir, who was working for a foreign engineering firm 400km outside Benghazi, was told that he would have to 'find his own way out of the country'. He was part of a group of 17 left in the desert, which later split up.

"The protesters shoot people on sight, it's not safe to go out. We don't have food and money. We are almost starving. Nobody can imagine how dangerous the situation is," he said.

Some of us tried to call our embassy (in Tripoli) for help, but they have not helped. Now they do not answer our phone calls" - Hosain Kabir

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Human rights Watch released a press statement today calling for wealthier nations to pitch in with efforts to evacuate the tens of thousands of migrant workers stranded in Libya. Abandoned by their employers and unable to secure help from their embassies, these migrant workers are in an extremely dangerous position - especially since some Libyan protesters have launched indiscriminate attacks on Asian and African workers.

"Thousands upon thousands of foreign workers remain stuck in Benghazi, after being forced from their factories and losing their possessions in last week's tumultuous events. The sub-Saharan African workers are in dire need of evacuation because of the threats they face in Libya" Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch

Governments of developing countries in Asia, such as Bangladesh and the Philippines, are struggling to evacuate their nationals from Libya and have also called on wealthier nations to help bail out stranded workers.

Migrant workers who have been abandoned by their embassies and employers have also been unable to get any help from the employment brokers who brought them into the country.

"If you are going to migrate, how do you do it in a safe manner? Such as linking up with employment firms that are honest and reputable," Jeff Johnson, Director of the ILO's Philippine Office, told AFP, adding that recruitment brokers should also do their bit in times of crisis to see that workers are safely evacuated.

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The Libyan crisis has truly highlighted the disturbing tendency of the private sector to abnegate responsability for migrant workers.