During the meeting held in Bangkok last week, officials said the global financial crisis could have a dramatic impact on the lives of migrant workers in Southeast Asia.
As the crisis unfolds, a two-way increase is expected in the movement of people: overseas migrants returning home after losing their jobs, or those recently laid off at home moving overseas in search of work.
As some countries take increasingly protectionist stances, the options for formal migration will narrow rapidly. Migrants abroad may face increasingly difficult conditions, with fewer employment opportunities and may encounter greater discrimination and stigmatisation.
This will lead to more undocumented migrants, unsafe migration, and an increased possibility that migrants would find themselves in situations that either put them at risk or make them- like many socially distressed people - more vulnerable to HIV infection.
"The financial crisis and multi-billion dollar economic stimulus packages being put forward must not forget the faces and voices of migrants and mobile populations who are among the most vulnerable", said Ms Gwi-Yeop Son, UN resident coordinator in Thailand and convener of the joint UN initiative on migration and HIV/Aids in Southeast Asia, in her welcome address.
Present at the international meeting were first time government officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health and Labour from the 10 Asean member states, civil society organisations, UN agencies and the Asean secretariat.
Together, they made some recommendations on how to safeguard the right to health of migrant workers, and especially their access to HIV services throughout the migration cycle.
Key recommendations from the meeting included ensuring that HIV testing of migrants adheres to international standards including informed consent, confidentiality and counselling, as well as developing effective means for the return and reintegration of migrant workers including proper referral to HIV services.
The recommendations will be reported to the 14th Asean Summit in Hua Hin, from February 27 to March 1.