Many immigrants suffer high levels of vulnerability

In most countries affected by the economic crisis, unemployment increased faster for foreign than for native-born workers (OECD, 2011). As the economy cooled down, many firms were forced to shed labour. Immigrants were the first to go as it was easier to revoke their contracts, both legally and politically. The fact that a number of undocumented immigrants were working informally, made it easier for employers to annul any pre-existing agreement.

The conflict in Libya also exposed the fact that many immigrants, particularly those stuck in transit, are vulnerable to violations of human rights. Many were forced to return home or move to neighbouring countries. A bilateral agreement signed between Italy and Libya, for instance, allowing Italy to repatriate irregular immigrants to Libya, increased the danger.6 As the detention centres in Libya are poorly maintained, they only help exacerbate the situation as authorities sell the detainees to traffickers, who then help migrants attempt to cross to Italy again, restarting the vicious cycle. The price migrants pay to traffickers is often exorbitant, sometimes amounting to several times any eventual monthly wage. Following the conflict, many immigrants were forced to stay or emigrate illegally, as their passports were kept by their employers.

With little in terms of representation, immigrants find themselves in situations where their rights are not defended. This happens in both OECD and non-OECD countries. In the Dominican Republic, children born to the darker-skinned Haitians are denied citizenship on the basis that their parents were in "transit" when they were born (Human Rights Watch, 2002). In Mexico immigrants are often forced into economic circumstances involving illicit goods and gang violence. In Saudi Arabia, immigrants from Asia are subjected to death penalties, without recourse even to the consular services of their countries. Many of the crimes allegedly follow defensive attacks in response to attempted rape and torture by the immigrants' employers. As many as 60% of Indonesians who go overseas to work face serious problems, ranging from physical abuse to not being paid, being killed on the job or committing suicide out of despair.7 Indeed, in 2009 the Indonesian government banned the deployment of domestic helpers to Malaysia, in response to cases of abuse. Many employers also fail to pay their workers. In a survey of 169 migrant workers in Qatar, one-third reported regularly not getting paid on time and 35% reported they were working seven days a week.8

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