(IANS) An inter-governmental legal body has called for compensation for thousands of foreign workers, including Indians, who have lost their jobs and are being evacuated from strife-torn West Asia and North Africa.
The 47-member Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), which is headquartered here, has urged the international community to consider compensating them.
"Merely evacuating them and sending them home is not enough. Most of them have paid heavily to recruiting agencies and touts to get those jobs. To return home with their pockets empty would mean prolonged misery for their families," Rahmat Mohamad, secretary general of AALCO, which promotes progressive development of the international law, told IANS.
The current turmoil "is spreading and is going to be there for some time. It will cover thousands more migrant workers who need help", said Mohamad, a Malaysian law teacher who has been at its helm for three years.
"Some countries are preparing to attack Libya and looking at 'No Fly Zone' and some are asking Muammar Gaddafi (Libyan leader) not to use force on his people. But equally important, if not more, is the fate of migrant workers," he said.
"People from one country go to another to work. Evacuated to a third country, they are refugees. What kind of aid is being given to them?"
He cited the multiple tragedies that befell Bangladeshi workers who were evacuated from Libya last Sunday. Scores of workers had tried to flee a rescue ship docked at the Greek island of Crete in an apparent bid to avoid being sent back home. Three of them drowned and some are still missing.
While there is a crisis on, even during normal times, the world community is very slow in reacting to problems of migrant workers, he noted. "What sort of reparation or compensation is being given to them?"
Mohamad said the AALCO will write on this issue to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) and other relevant bodies.
Based on their response, he said it will take up the initiative at a conference planned here next month.
Many countries do not have laws for migrant workers. Laws that could be applied both domestically and internationally are urgently needed, he said.
Mohamad said India had mooted an Asia-Africa initiative last November and mutual legal aid had been mooted for Asian and African nations at another conference held last year in Malaysia.
To keep pace with new challenges, AALCO had taken up issues like international terrorism, cyber crime, both of which had been on the rise and needed consultations among the nations to deal with the legal aspects.
The case of piracy on the high seas was different in that there are laws that are not effectively applied. Many countries did not comprehend it beyond law and order issue.
He cited the example of Malaysia, situated on the threshold of several straits through which international navigation is conducted and is at times victim of piracy.
Mohamad said his country had the law to deal with domestic pirates, but is for the first time confronted with is ships being hijacked by pirates off Somalia in the Arabian Sea. Seven Somali pirates are now in Malaysian jail awaiting trial.
"Many states do not have legislation on piracy, or have outdated legislation which does not allow them to take full advantage afforded to them under international law, in particular, UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," he told IANS in an interview.
Rahmat Mohamad's essays on these and related subjects compiled in a book are to be released Friday by visiting Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.