Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The migrant worker's plight

I am a Canadian living in Kuwait. Before I came to Kuwait I used to be the very quiet type who minds his own business. However, after my arrival it all changed. I had been witnessing and reading about so many human rights violations against those who can’t and/or aren’t allowed to defend themselves, the impunity enjoyed by the offenders because of the corruption and a system turning against the victims rather than protecting them. Eventually, I could no longer contain my outrage and decided to take a stand. I do not consider myself as a human rights freak but I do care a great deal about the issue. I believe every human being, men and women, deserve to be treated as equal. I despise those who abuse their power to force others into servitude. I admire anyone who has the courage to stand up for the weakest simply because it’s the right thing to no matter what the risks are.

Those are the words of blogger Ben Rivard who writes the Kuwait - fighting corruption, terrorism and human rights violations blog. His blog performs the fine but thankless task of uncovering some of the horrendous Human Rights violations that happen and continue to happen, mostly to South and South East Asians migrant workers in Kuwait. These crimes usually range from non compliance of contactual obligations, which usually means unpaid work, to horrific incidents of mental and physical abuse. This area is a human rights nightmare that affects the lives of the lowest of the low of the Globalisation model: the South Asian migrant worker. There is a human interest story that has gone largely undocumented and unreported. Anyone who has been to or has worked in the Middle East has had some exposure to the widespread nature of this problem. A cursory read of the local press in any Gulf stare will yield dozens of incidents involving abuse of domestic workers. This however is only the thin edge of the magnitude of the offences. Kuwait seems to be particularly bad if the freqency of reports of rape, murders and plain human violence that that surface to the police and the press are anything to go by.

What makes things worse is the total lack of legal and basic human rights support provided by the workers’ own consulates and governments to their citizens working in these, mostly Gulf States. Its almost as if they are compelled to take the backfoot with these Arab countries in relations concerning human and workers rightst to individuals who are often working in menial and low paid jobs. As long as foreign exchange is flowing back into their countries as a result of these workers remittances, they could care less about their individual tragedies and grievances. The incident that threw this into relief was this story of 700 desperate Bangladeshi workers who ransacked their embassy last year in Kuwait because of the total lack of support offered by the consulate against the actions of non-compliance by Kuwaiti employees.

Sunny H has been highlighting the issue as well, and has pointed out Abdullah Al-Mutairi article in the Arab News on the culture of cruelty towards migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. 

Another blogger who writes on related human rights issues around the Middle East has surfaced in the shape of Chan’ad Bahraini.

Worth mentioning this open letter by the Human Right Watch to the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 2003:

As the World Bank recognized in its April 2003 report on Global Development Finance, remittances sent home by migrant workers reached $80 billion in 2002, up from $60 billion in 1998. These payments have become more important and stable sources of finance for developing countries than private lending or official development assistance.

Countries receiving large remittances include Bangladesh ($2.1 billion in 2001), Egypt ($2.9 billion), India ($10 billion), Indonesia ($1 billion), Jordan ($2 billion), Lebanon ($2.3 billion), Morocco ($3.3 billion), Pakistan ($1.5 billion), the Philippines ($6.4 billion), Sri Lanka ($1.1 billion) and Yemen ($1.5 billion).

Read the letter in full.


At April 06, 2006 7:02 pm, Anonymous Sunny said...

Thanks for this mate.... I found the Bangladeshi article useful and mentioned it in the radio interview.

At April 10, 2006 11:13 pm, Anonymous Sunny said...

Sid - can you drop me an email!? Need to chat to you about something mate..



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