Committee on Protection of Migrant Workers and their families considers report of Paraguay

Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers

17 April 2012

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families today completed its consideration of the initial report of Paraguay on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Presenting the report Juan Buffa, Director of the Directorate of Paraguayan Communities Abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said the Government of Paraguay believed that migration should have a human rights-centred approach, which included the right to choose whether or not to migrate.  The global financial crisis had caused restrictions and some repressive policies for migrants.  However developed countries were not the only destination for migrants; migration could be an option for everyone.  Paraguay placed migration at the centre of its policy-making and public opinion.  Approximately one person in ten left Paraguay, young people formed the largest migratory group, and more than 80 per cent of Paraguayan migrants lived in Brazil and Argentina.  In 2009 Paraguay joined the MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South) migrant regularization programme, which had already benefited 12,000 irregular immigrants. 

Committee Experts asked questions about consular and embassy services for Paraguayan migrants living abroad, and measures to ensure they had official papers and were registered to vote in domestic elections, about the regularization process, actions to tackle trafficking in persons, expulsion measures, labour conditions for migrant workers, the protection of the children of migrants and the vulnerability of indigenous peoples.

In concluding remarks, Francisco Carrión Mena, the Committee member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Paraguay, said Paraguay had taken several positive steps in implementing the Convention, especially on a human rights level, and notably including awareness-raising of the migratory phenomenon in a global context.  Issues Paraguay could improve included acquisition of statistics, the vulnerability of indigenous groups, monitoring migratory flows and strengthening of institutional support for migrants from a human rights standpoint. 

The delegation of Paraguay included representatives from the Directorate for Paraguayan Communities Living Abroad, the Directorate for Migration, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Home Affairs, the Human Rights Directorate and the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. afternoon when it will begin consideration of the initial report of Tajikistan (CMW/C/TJK/1).

Report of Paraguay

The initial report of Paraguay can be read via the following link: CMW/C/PRY/1

Presentation of the Report of Paraguay

JUAN BUFFA, Director of the Direction Paraguayan communities abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said migration posed an increasing number of challenges in the world today and there were increasing numbers of countries of origin and of destination.  The Government of Paraguay believed that migration should have a human rights-centred approach, which included the right to choose whether or not to migrate.  Consequences of the global financial crisis included restrictions on migration, and some rich countries had promoted repressive policies against migrants.  However developed countries were not the only destination for migrants; migration could be an option for everyone.  In 1972 statistics showed there were 81,100 foreigners living illegally in Paraguay, as compared to 173,176 people in 2002.  However the percentage of foreigners in relation to the total population of Paraguay did not exceed 3.4 per cent during that period.  Approximately one person in ten left Paraguay, young people formed the largest migratory group, and over 70 per cent went to Argentina.  Currently the Government did not have a complete record of the labour situation of the migrant population, but a census was to be carried out in 2012 which would remedy that situation. 

Brazil and Argentina were the main countries of destination for Paraguay, with more than 80 per cent of Paraguayan migrants living in those two countries.  In 2009 Paraguay entered into a MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South) migrant regularization programme called ‘MERCOSUR Residence Agreement’, which had already benefited 12,000 irregular immigrants.  A draft amnesty bill would benefit migrants once approved by Congress, while efforts to fight trafficking in persons included the establishment in 2005 of the Inter-Institutional Bureau, which brought together 47 official institutions and worked closely with civil society.  The Bureau had noted a worrying increase in trafficking, and together with other institutions, worked to train officials in recognizing and tackling trafficking, and in working with Embassies abroad.

In 1992 Paraguay enshrined the protection of migrant workers in its Constitution, outlawing any discrimination on nationality or any other grounds.  The Constitution also banned torture, slavery, indebted servitude, and guaranteed the right to decent employment.  Nobody belonging to any official religion could be harassed, investigated or asked to declare anything on the grounds of their belief or ideology.  Secularism was another right, as was the right to conscientious objection.  Paraguay placed migration at the centre of its policy-making and public opinion.  That was because of the very many changes relating to the make-up of family households, which had a direct impact on children, as well as the civic rights of Paraguayan citizens abroad.  Paraguay trusted that the Committee’s concluding observations would be both challenging and useful, and looked forward to the interactive dialogue. 

Questions by Experts

FRANCISCO CARRIÓN MENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Paraguay, congratulated the State party on having fulfilled its obligation to present a report.  He said that there was no doubt that Paraguay demonstrated a positive attitude towards the issue of migration, and noted that in recent years the Government of Paraguay had shown clear political will to cooperate with United Nations human rights bodies.

As both a country of origin and a host country of migrants, it was important that Paraguay could generate reliable statistics to adequately manage its complex migration issues.  The Rapporteur said that trafficking of persons was an especially sensitive issue which threatened the stability of the State, and asked for more information on the Government’s draft bill on trafficking.  Mr. Carrión Mena also wished to know more about the special vulnerability of indigenous peoples, about the situation of Bolivians living in Paraguay and the situation of Paraguayans living abroad.

FATOUMATA ABDOURHAMANA DICKO, Committee Member acting as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Paraguay, stressed that Paraguay's economy was based primarily on a network of small and medium enterprises, which implied unemployment and underemployment rates; these were factors behind migration in search of better living conditions. 

The Co-Rapporteur said that indigenous peoples were among the most vulnerable groups in Paraguay, and asked about arrangements for their reintegration when they returned to Paraguay after a period of emigration.  She also asked how many Paraguayans lived abroad, and how many foreigners lived in Paraguay.  What about access to justice for Paraguayan migrants living abroad?

A Committee Expert said that Paraguay had provided substantial attention to migrants, and had participated with MERCOSUR (the Common Market of the South) in the implementation of its MERCOSUR-wide Residency Agreement.  However, the Expert said, one could not talk about migratory policies unless one talked about a starting point of providing official papers to make illegal migrants legal. 

The Office of the First Lady had launched a pilot project, with support from the International Organization of Migration and the Inter-American Development Bank, on combating trafficking of persons, particularly of women and children.  Had that project seen any success?  What was its current status?  Did the national anti-trafficking policy aim to establish an extra standard that went hand in hand with coordinated action on trafficking?  If so, would Paraguay’s criminal code be brought into line with the Palermo Protocol?

An Expert commended Paraguay on progress made in implementing the Convention, but said that there was always room for improvement.  In particular, what was being done for the children of migrant workers who were unable to speak the national language, Spanish?  How could migrants be expelled from the country, an Expert asked?  Was it a court or an administrative decision, and was there an appeal process?  Were diplomatic or consular officials advised of the situation? 

An Expert noted the large number of Paraguayans living in Argentina – approximately 60 per cent of Paraguayan migrants – who formed the majority of Argentina’s labour force.  Were there plans to have a formal agreement with the Government of Argentina in order to provide better consular services for Paraguayan migrants living there, for example with their documentation and administrative needs?  

Following on from the last question, an Expert said that as a land-locked country it was entirely natural that Paraguay would have a lot of nationals working abroad, but what structure existed to serve them?  Were there labour and welfare counsellors, specialized persons who could help those Paraguayan migrant workers living in other countries?  Were Paraguayan diplomats trained to do that work, and to serve their people abroad in an efficient manner?

Response from the Delegation

The Head of the Delegation said that statistics were always an area of weakness, but he could say that for some decades there had been more people leaving Paraguay  than arriving.  It was really a country of immigration.  In the past massive numbers had left, and a recent migratory profile of 2010 showed between 800,000 and 900,000 Paraguayans were living abroad, although that was probably an underestimate.  Some Committee members were very familiar with the situation of Paraguayans living in Argentina, where it was estimated at least half a million Paraguayans lived.  There were also large numbers of seasonal workers in Argentina and much short-term, and even circular, migration.  People crossed the borders to Argentina and Brazil in both directions daily, weekly and even monthly.  The Brazilian economy enjoyed serious input from Paraguayan labour. 

There was no doubt that there was a backlog in providing paperwork to Paraguayan migrants, and there was a growing demand for consular services.  Sometimes there was no time to deal with administrative procedures to get official papers.  One reason for the growth in demand was greater trust in the Government by Paraguayans living abroad, resulting in the provision of many more identity papers.  Consulates had become a home away from home for Paraguayans, which was definitely not the case previously.  For example, a huge consulate had recently opened in Madrid, Spain, which now saw 400 to 500 Paraguayans per day. 

After the devastating war of the late 1800s, Paraguay had a repopulation policy to attract immigrants, for example by selling land extremely cheaply.  In the 1960s and 1970s migration went hand to hand with intense agricultural development, along with new agricultural technology and strong investment in hydro-electric power, which had a very real impact on regional migration.  Many Brazilians, Argentineans and Uruguayans came to Paraguay during that time.  It was difficult to get precise figures, even through a census, as some migrants were reluctant to register and take part in a census in case they got into trouble.  New migration policies, such as the amnesty law, were aimed to deal with those problems. 

Since 2008 the new Government, headed by President Fernando Lugo, had taken a radical new approach to migration policy, to Paraguayans living abroad and to foreigners living in the country.  More resources had been ring-fenced for consular services to meet the social service needs of Paraguayans living abroad. 

Preventing trafficking in persons was a priority issue, although that was not always the case.  The Inter-Institutional Bureau to Fight Trafficking in Persons, set up in 2005, worked together with international bodies, non-governmental organizations and civil society.  It met regularly and brought together 47 official institutions. 

The Bureau carried out many awareness-raising campaigns in national media and leafleting and radio advertising in rural areas, and reached a large percentage of the population.  The Bureau has importantly raised awareness in institutions that provided education and healthcare as well as provided training, for example for public prosecutors, police officers, local authorities and officials within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the International Organization of Migration and the International Labour Organization.  Over 100 short (four days long) and intensive training courses were provided over a one-year period, which reached a huge number of people.  Embassy and consular staff working abroad had also received training on trafficking, while distance-learning courses had been provided for staff working in the border regions, particularly the high-risk ‘triple border’ region. 

The Ministry for Women and Children set up a special unit to support the victims of trafficking, as did the National Police Force.  While men were more likely to be victims of labour exploitation, large numbers of women and girls were victims of sexual exploitation.  They were abducted by traffickers or groups of criminals, sometimes with the consent of their parents, who did not really know what was going on.  Definitive solutions to deal with the problem of trafficking were needed. 

A new 2007 law was established to help illegal foreigners living in Paraguay who had been resident for at least a year and who did not have papers.  After that initial period individuals had the right to obtain identity papers from the Office of the National Police.  The law was for all nationalities, to help them become legally resident for a two-year period.  After that two-year period they had the right to apply for permanent residency, which was a different process.  Any foreigner who met the criteria laid down within the law had the right to apply for that documentation on an equal footing with any Paraguayan national.  Other types of temporary papers were available which lasted for one year and could be renewed up to six times. 
The MERCOSUR Amnesty Programme was mostly carried out in cooperation with Brazil and Paraguay was working together with the Brazilian consulate.  Because of the MERCOSUR agreement Brazilians living in Paraguay were granted permanent residency, after the two-year period.  More than 11,000 temporary and permanent papers had been given to Brazilians.  It was quite a long-winded process, but it would continue. 

There were very few cases of expulsion.  When that happened the relevant consulate or embassy was contacted to ensure that the person had a defence counsel; they had the full right to defence and were always heard during the court proceedings, which was recorded in official migration files.  At the end of the day there was an expulsion warrant.

The private sector and the press actively participated in the process of building citizenship and consolidating democracy in Paraguay.  The Government organized multi-sectoral meetings, and very much involved civil society, the private sector and the diplomatic corps in its policy-making on issues concerning migrants. 

Migrants were a vulnerable group.  Although on the whole the labour force was becoming better educated, the labour force, especially in the agro-business sector, was generally not at a satisfactory level.  The labour force was linked to economic cycles, both in Paraguay and abroad.  Their jobs were linked to the global economy, and that only increased their vulnerability. 

An ‘open congress’ was recently held in Asunción, which helped civil society and associations representing Paraguayan migrants abroad voice their opinions on migration issues.  Earlier pre-congresses were held in Argentina where the Government was pleased to see substantial representation from public sector partners such as universities, the church, the arts, musicians and cultural clubs.

A big problem for Paraguayan nationals living abroad was the ability to vote in domestic elections.  A national referendum found people were in favour of allowing Paraguayans living abroad to vote, so legislation was passed and the Constitution was changed.  So far people had registered to vote from Argentina, Spain and the United States.  However, many people did not have up-to-date paperwork – a passport was not sufficient: only an identity card issued by the police in Paraguay was valid – so they could not register to vote. 

Also aside from Buenos Aires, Madrid and New York, there were no large concentrations of Paraguayans abroad: they tended to be greatly dispersed and so difficult to communicate with and register for voting.  For example, in the United States Paraguay only had three general consulates and one embassy, and that was not enough to register every Paraguayan who lived in the United States.  However, there were Paraguayan cultural centres around the world that were involved in the process and helped by nominating registrars, etcetera, and had some success in registrations. 

The next elections would be held in the first quarter of 2013, and so the registration scheme would be accelerated for the rest of 2012.  The staff of mobile consulates worked to issue new identity cards for those who had lost, or never had one, using new technology such as digital fingerprinting, to issue them abroad.

Speaking about the participation of civil society in issues of migration, a delegate noted that a 2002 law made it possible for those who sought asylum or refugee status to benefit from the advice of non-governmental organizations, as well as the Ministry of Public Defence, when applying for official status.

A delegate turned to the subject of indigenous people, namely the Guaraní culture, which had a strong influence in Paraguay.  The Guaraní language was an official language and was widely spoken and Guaraní medicine was used, but sadly their forests had not always been preserved, due to deforestation and exploitation by lumber companies.  There was little emigration of indigenous communities, although there had been cases of smuggling or trafficking where persons from indigenous communities were taken abroad for purposes of sexual exploitation.  There was no immigration of indigenous peoples from other countries into Paraguay.

Primary-level education was free and compulsory for all citizens of Paraguay and was also available to the children of foreigners – there was no distinction.  However coverage did not always reach every corner of the country, due to costs, or areas close to the Brazilian border which had private schools that taught in Portuguese (rather than the Paraguayan national languages of Spanish and Guaraní).  Healthcare was recently declared free, and all healthcare services were made accessible to foreigners. 

Minors, children under the age of 15, were generally not allowed to work except in certain circumstances.  Children between the ages of 12 and 15 were allowed to work in companies in which their family members were employed.  There were apprenticeships, in which children younger than 15 were forbidden to work more than four hours per day or 24 hours per week, and those younger than 18 years could not work more than six hours per day, or 36 hours per week.

Regarding working conditions for migrants, Paraguay recently adopted MERCOSUR guidelines on that subject, for both employers and employees.  There was an increasing female component in Paraguayan emigration, and for small businesses, both in Paraguay and abroad, female participation had become important.  In terms of remittances, women migrants were the ones who most systematically sent funds to their families back home.  There were programmes to provide training for women who wanted to work abroad, namely in domestic tasks such as cooking and other skills required by the international market.  Those training programmes had generated a huge amount of interest. 

Elaborating on the subject of training in migration and human rights issues, a delegate said that such training for officials took place in a special academy and was a legal obligation for all consular civil servants and diplomats. 

Unfortunately there were many cases of Paraguayan workers detained abroad, particularly in Argentina and Spain.  In accordance with the Vienna Convention the Government was informed about them.  Many were victims of human trafficking, and also drug trafficking.  Paraguayans were recruited from vulnerable, poor and low-educated communities and used to transport drugs from one country to another.  They were assisted in prison by their local consulate that provided legal aid and appointed a lawyer for them.  There was a registry of all citizens detained abroad.  Prisoners who were held in countries where Paraguay did not have a Consulate – such as China – had access to the consulate services of fellow MERCOSUR countries.   

The migration flows with Argentina and Spain were high volume but no recruiting companies carried out massive hiring – that had not yet happened in Paraguay.  Usually an individual applicant had a contact and was hired personally.  In the case of Italy there were quotas of nurses who travelled under contract, authorized by the Italian Government, and facilities were provided for them. 

Regarding irregular migrants around the world, it was difficult to have clear numbers but it was estimated that approximately 60 to 70 per cent of Paraguayans in Spain, for example, were irregular.  That made them especially vulnerable, particularly during times of economic hardship and low unemployment.  Sometimes repatriation was requested if both breadwinners in a family lost their job, but usually a single member of a family would continue working, and they would hang on in hope of better times and employment coming.  Sometimes a child may be in school, and the family may be settled in a community; if they were registered they may receive some social services.

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

An Expert noted that between 2011 and 2012 there was a conflict between Brazilian migrant workers living in Paraguay and asked the delegation to shed light on the situation.  The Expert also asked about retirement pensions for expatriate workers.

When migrants living abroad were asked to present an identity document rather than their passport, their right to vote was impeded, an Expert said, and the majority of the second generation of migrants did not have that identity document.  Furthermore, if a child was born abroad to just one Paraguayan parent, did they have the right to that identity document?  The Expert asked for more detail on what securities were provided to the children of migrants and unaccompanied minors.  The delegation was also asked if Paraguay was used as a transit country by migrants on their way to a third destination. 

Regarding social security, it seemed that foreigners living in Paraguay were covered by bilateral and multilateral agreements.  An emigrant’s right to social security stemmed from the Convention, so if a foreigner working in Paraguay was not covered by any bilateral and multilateral agreement, were they covered by social security?

An Expert pointed out that Paraguay had so far registered around 20,000 of its approximate one million citizens who lived abroad.  The situation Mexico faced six years ago, when only around 40,000 of its approximate six million citizens living abroad voted in its elections, could happen to Paraguay.  Saying that everyone could vote could just be a political, and theoretical, gesture.  Was it actually possible to make it happen?  The Expert went on to congratulate Paraguay on its actions to assist migrants who returned home, by giving them the right to bring their small tools and equipment with them: it was important to ensure that people could bring the resources they had acquired abroad with them when repatriated. 

Remittances played a huge role in a country’s economy, so Paraguayans living and working abroad had to be supported.  As the delegation said, women who lived abroad tended to send back 100 per cent of everything they earned, and the number of Paraguayan women living abroad had recently increased by 25 per cent.  It was good that the Government was preparing those women to live abroad. 

Response by the Delegation

Youth who reached school age were now automatically registered to vote, but older generations still had to register themselves.  Once the automatic system was rolled out abroad it would help Paraguayan migrants who wanted to vote in domestic elections.  As yet only a small number were registered because the registration process had only been ongoing for a few weeks.  The Government planned to open more permanent offices to register voters. 

Paraguayans living abroad had repeatedly insisted on using their passport to register to vote, but the law did not currently allow that.  Only the identity card was valid, even if it had expired.  Unfortunately many Paraguayans lost their identity cards as they did not see an immediate and tangible use for them.  Consulates did not issue identity cards; they were only available from the Paraguayan police in the capital city Asunción.  Approximately 500 people per day requested an identity card in Buenos Aires alone, and 2,000 identity cards were carried to the consulate there by diplomatic courier every week. 

Regarding the problem with Brazilian workers in Paraguay, a report from the Ministry of the Interior detailed that on 8 February 2012 there was a police intervention at a property following a dispute over ownership.  A peaceful eviction was carried out, and the property was repossessed by the owner of the property. 

Social security agreements were currently held with Argentina, Chile, Netherlands and Brazil.  The national constitution guaranteed equality for all persons in Paraguay.
Regarding pensions, the system did not yet cover a person to pay into it from one country and then receive their pension in another. 

There were many cases of children born abroad who had been naturalized in Paraguay.  Normally the parents would have to bring the child to Paraguay and follow legal procedures under which they would be given the status of ‘repatriated child’.  For unaccompanied children, the State would nominate somebody to determine the best interests of a child, particularly in terms of prospective adoption. 

Concluding Remarks

JUAN BUFFA, Director of the Directorate of Paraguayan Communities Abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thanked the Committee for its patience and extensive work on the report of Paraguay, and said he hoped the delegation had been able to shed light on the situation of vulnerable migrant workers.  

FRANCISCO CARRIÓN MENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Paraguay, thanked the delegation of Paraguay for its very interesting and thorough account of the treatment they provided to migrants, and all the problems that involved.  The fact that they presented their report here in compliance with the Convention was very positive, and positive steps had been taken on a general human rights level, including Paraguay’s ratification of an important number of human rights instruments.  Important awareness-raising of the migratory phenomenon in a global context had taken place in Paraguay, which in itself was positive.  There were issues that Paraguay would have to make an effort on, which were not exclusive to Paraguay, namely the acquisition of statistics, the vulnerability of indigenous groups, monitoring migratory flows and strengthening of institutional support for migrants from a human rights standpoint.  The Committee felt it was a satisfactory starting point for the report. 

ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the Paraguayan State for sending a high-level delegation made up of competent members.  The Committee had found many positive points in the report, as well as areas that needed improvement.  The Convention was rich and cross-cutting and not always easy to implement.  Paraguay could count on the Committee, the International Organization for Migration and United Nations bodies to help them in that.


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