A recent United Nations study has found that thanks to the global economic meltdown, women migrants from Asia are finding themselves "highly vulnerable" to HIV infections.
The crisis has led to massive job cuts and the "situation of migrant workers is under threat," according to the study, released in Manila by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
"When demand for labour wanes, those in the weakest bargaining position, usually temporary migrant workers and particularly the undocumented, will accept almost any conditions to hold on to their jobs," the reports aid.
The reports said 70-80 percent of migrants from Sri Lanka and the Philippines to Arab states were women. Sixty percent of women migrants from Bangladesh also found employment in that region between 1991 and 2007, it said.
But these women now are subjected to harsh realities, with many heavily indebted before leaving their home countries. Others are subjected to sexual abuse by their employers and fall prey to human traffickers.
"Conditions are expected to become harsher for even the employed migrant workers as they try to hang on to their jobs," said UNDP country representative Renaud Meyer, adding that among the most vulnerable were the illegals who would "accept almost any circumstances to hold on to their jobs."
"Worst still, during the present turmoil, desperation for work may lead to migration under unsafe conditions, sexual exploitation, and increased vulnerability to HIV infections," Meyer said.
While some countries require pre-departure orientation on HIV for migrants, many still remain uneducated about the virus, which causes AIDS. In particular, 96 percent of Bangladeshi domestic helpers in the Middle East said they did not receive such orientation before leaving home.
"While half of them have heard of HIV through the media or from co-workers, none had in-depth knowledge on HIV prevention and safe-sex practices," it said.
The combination of high recruitment fees and poor wages also push women migrant workers "into debt traps, which in turn, could lead to sexual exploitation."
"Those who flee abusive working conditions are immediately rendered illegal by host countries, exposing them to greater risk of abuse, including sexual exploitation and increased vulnerability to HIV," the study said.
The study was based on more than 600 interviews with migrants from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which supply domestic helpers to countries such as Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.