Feature story

New report shows Asian migrant women in the Arab states have heightened vulnerability to HIV

10 March 2009

The new study, Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab Statessays that Asian women migrating to Arab countries often face circumstances which leave them highly vulnerable to factors leading to HIV infection.

Asian women migrating to the Arab states often do so under unsafe conditions, are targets of sexual exploitation and violence and are highly vulnerable to factors that lead to HIV infection, according to a study launched today, produced in collaboration by UNDP, UNAIDS, CARAM Asia, IOM,UNIFEM, and Caritas Migrant Centre in Lebanon.

HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States examines the health, social and economic toll that migrant women often face, particularly those who are low-skilled. In the current global economic crisis, with rising unemployment, their situation can become precarious as they tend to be in a weak bargaining position and are more likely to accept poor conditions to secure or keep a job.

Migration itself is not a risk factor for HIV infection, but it is the conditions under which people migrate, and the working and living conditions they find themselves in that make them highly vulnerable to HIV.

Based on some 600 interviews in four Asian countries and three Arab states (Bahrain, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates), the study reveals that migrant women, many of whom become domestic workers, often lack legal coverage, suffer duress and sexual exploitation in the workplace, and have limited or no access to health and social services.

The Arab States are the primary destination for many migrant workers from Asia, including the four countries which are the focus of research; Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The movement of women and money between the countries studied is considerable. The report estimates that 70-80 percent of migrants from Sri Lanka and the Philippines to the Arab States are female. Between 1991 and 2007, 60 percent of women migrants from Bangladesh left to find employment in these countries and remittances from Filipinos working in the Arab States in 2007 amounted to US$ 2.17 billion. In Bangladesh, migrant workers sent back close to US$ 637 million from the UAE. Current remittances by migrant workers from Sri Lanka amount to US$ 3 billion.

HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States charts a way forward. According to the report, host countries and countries of origin share equal responsibility to provide protective policies and programmes for women who seek a better life away from home. Recommendations include:


  • Migrants who have a medical condition that does not impair their ability to work, such as living with HIV, should not be denied the right to work
  • Health insurance schemes for migrant workers should cover all aspects of health, including HIV
  • Hiring agents and employer blacklists need to be created, monitored and shared
  • Embassy and consular staff in host countries should be trained on the special needs and vulnerabilities of migrant women
  • Existing labour laws should be changed/reformed to cover migrant workers in the domestic sector

Related feature stories




CARAM Asia (Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility)

Caritas Migrant Centre in Lebanon

Feature stories:

Insight into AIDS responses in Middle East and North Africa (04 February 2009)

Gender and AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa (08 August 2007)


HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States:
Full report (pdf, 2.27 Mb)
Executive summary (pdf, 822 Kb)

Migrants and HIV: “Far Away from Home” club (pdf, 899 Kb)