Labour migration can be an economic lifeline for many families in Asia, but if not managed well, it can also be a high-risk undertaking. For all of the stories of workers saving and supporting their families, countless others report being deceived about the nature of work they will do abroad, being underpaid, working long hours under dangerous conditions, and in some cases suffering physical or sexual abuse at the hands of employers or unscrupulous recruitment agents.

The Migrant Worker Access to Justice Project began in 2011 as an applied research collaboration to examine how labor migrants who suffer harms in the course of their migration could access formal and informal justice mechanisms to seek redress.

The project members, including human rights and labour migration experts, decided to focus on two case-studies – Indonesia and Nepal – to understand how origin country governments were approaching the challenge. Origin countries were chosen at the outset because they are often where the cycle of exploitation begins through brokers and recruitment agencies failing to properly inform or prepare workers before departure, and where workers return after suffering losses.

Through comprehensive literature review, rigorous country-specific field research and legal analysis, the project provided detailed findings and recommendations for strengthening domestic legal systems to enhance access to justice for low wage labor migrants in the two countries.

Following the launch of these two studies, the members of the project continue to work together and individually to implement the recommendations and to expand the research to other locales. The Project received generous support from the Open Society Foundations’ International Migration Initiative, which commissioned the original studies, as well as Tifa Foundation (Indonesia), UNSW Law, [and the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Transnational Legal Clinic].



Bassina Farbenblum

Bassina Farbenblum led the study in Indonesia and is a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Law, where she is director of the Australian Human Rights Centre’s Migrant and Refugee Rights Project.  She is also the founding director of the law school’s Human Rights Clinic, which engages in domestic and international litigation, advocacy, training and law reform projects to advance the human rights of migrants and refugees in Asia and Australia. Previously, Bassina practiced as a lawyer in Sydney and New York, directing human rights litigation and advocacy for leading human rights organizations in the U.S., Australia, and India. Her scholarship focuses on the rights of non-citizens, labour migration governance, and the application of international human rights law in domestic contexts.

Bassina is based at UNSW Law in Sydney, Australia.

Sarah H. Paoletti

Sarah Paoletti led the Nepal study and is a Practice Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, where she founded and directs the Transnational Legal Clinic. Through the clinic students working under her supervision engage in the direct representation of individual and organizational clients in immigration and human rights cases and projects.  Sarah’s research focuses on the intersection of human rights, migration, and labor law.  She serves as President of the Board of Directors of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (a bi-national migrant worker rights organization), and also serves on the Board of Friends of Farmworkers, Inc., a statewide legal services provider for migrant workers in Pennsylvania. More information available at: https://www.law.upenn.edu/cf/faculty/paoletti/.

Sarah is based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Eleanor Taylor-Nicholson

Eleanor Taylor-Nicholson is the research director and project manager of the MWAJP. Eleanor has more than 12 years of experience working in human rights, migration and trafficking in Australia, Southeast Asia and the United States. Between 2006 and 2009, Eleanor was the Program Director at the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, overseeing programs including access to justice for victims of trafficking, and international advocacy. Since moving to the United States in 2009 to complete an LL.M at the University of California, Berkeley, Eleanor has worked at the Warren Institute for Law and Social Justice in Berkeley and as an independent consultant to the Open Society Foundations.

Eleanor currently works as an independent consultant in Washington D.C., USA.


International Partners 

Dina Nuriyati

Dina Nuriyati is an Indonesia-based independent researcher with more than a decade of experience working to promote the rights of migrant workers. Dina was a migrant domestic worker herself in Hong Kong after finishing high school, where she connected with other migrant workers and became an organizer and activist. After returning to Indonesia, she helped to lead the national migrant worker's union (SBMI) and completed her masters in Germany. Dina was the lead researcher for the project in Indonesia, conducting interviews and focus groups, coding and analyzing data, and arranging the launch of the Indonesia report in 2013.

Dina is based in Malang, East Java, Indonesia.


The Center for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM)  carried out the field research for the Nepal study and was a co-publisher of the report. CESLAM is a research centre established in January 2011 under the aegis of Social Science Baha. It aims to contribute to the understanding of labour and movement by pursuing four broad objectives:

  • Contribute to broader theories and understandings on labour and mobility by cultivating new insights through interdisciplinary research;
  • Conduct reliable, policy-relevant research on critical issues affecting working people and develop policy alternatives;
  • Serve as a forum to foster academic, policy and public debates about labour and mobility through an open interchange of ideas; and
  • Disseminate knowledge to a broad range of audience using a variety of academic, policy and media outlets.

International Migration Initiative, Open Society Foundations

The International Migration Initiative (IMI) is a program of OSF that designs and supports initiatives to reform the most abusive aspects of the migration process. The program organizes its work around migration corridors, pursuing coordinated action in countries of origin, transit, and destination. IMI seeks to achieve two specific goals: (1) that labor migration is a safe, just, and non-exploitative process, and (2) that laws, policies, and practices do not discriminate against migrants or violate their rights. To achieve these, IMI targets employment practices and recruitment systems to improve labor protections, migration enforcement policies to reduce rights violations by ensuring that immigration and border controls comply with human rights norms, and governance structures to establish systems that more effectively protect the rights of migrants. IMI draws on the experience and activism of grassroots organizations while simultaneously and vigorously engaging with policymakers and political leaders.

TIFA Foundation

The Tifa Foundation  is a grant-making organization that strives to build an open society by actively strengthening civil society in Indonesia. Since 2012, Tifa is dedicated to advance quality democracy in Indonesia and to promoting an open society in Indonesia, one which respects diversity and honors the rule of law, justice and equality. This includings promoting good governance, nurturing solidarity and supporting individual rights, particularly the rights and views of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups, including migrant workers. Tifa works to promote an open society in Indonesia, one which respects diversity and honors the rule of law, justice and equality. The Foundation has been a key partner in the Indonesia research and follow-up.

UNSW Human Rights Clinic

The Human Rights Clinic exposes students to the practice of law through work on cutting-edge human rights cases and projects that focus on advancing the rights of migrant workers and asylum seekers in Asia and Australia.  The Clinic's partners include civil society organisations, governments, UN agencies, and local legal aid lawyers. Clinic projects typically develop or test new areas of law or policy, particularly applying international human rights law in domestic contexts.  Recent projects include a Letter of Advice to Indonesian civil society and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Indonesia’s obligations under the Migrant Worker Convention, a diplomat training program for the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on international obligations to migrant workers, a draft manual for Indonesian civil society organisations on filing claims under the Migrant Worker Insurance Program, and representation of an Indonesian national in a case against Australia before the UN Human Rights Committee.

University of Pennsylvania Law School, Transnational Legal Clinic

Since the Transnational Legal Clinic’s founding in 2006, law students have successfully represented clients from countries as diverse as China, India, Saudi Arabia, Lithuania, Mali, Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico in cutting-edge legal claims, such as fear of persecution based on gender-identity and sexual orientation, gender-based violence, as well as claims based on family identity, political opinion, and religion, and legal claims for immigrant workers subjected to subjected to forced labor through fraud and coercion, and other forms of extreme labor exploitation.  Students also work in close collaboration with partner and client organizations in the United States, Nepal, and other countries, in developing and implementing strategies for utilizing international and regional human rights mechanisms to address a range of human rights issues on behalf of migrant workers and immigrant communities.