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South Asia: Slaving in the Middle East

Categories: South Asia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Ethnicity & Race, Human Rights, Labor, Law, Migration & Immigration, Youth

South Asian migrant workers (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal) have a notable contribution in the developments of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region. But the abuse and exploitation of these workers is shocking and serious issue. Migrant workers fuel the engine of the economy but they are exploited, abused, discriminated against, and rarely receive government protection.

There are numerous stories of human rights abuses. Just to give some examples:

Thousands of labors sell their belongings to go to Gulf countries for their dream job. Drishtipat reports [1] how they are being exploited and come back with a broken heart.

Hundreds of Nepali workers in Qatar have been driven from the country for demanding better pay from their employers. United We Blog posts a shocking firsthand experience [2] of a young Nepali student returning from America. He describes the inhuman treatment he received in Bahrain International airport because he protested the mistreatment of the deported Nepalis by the Gulf Airlines staffers.

In Kuwait, almost 60% of its 3 million population are migrant workers. Expositions of Arabia Blog chats [3] with an Indian worker in Kuwait who claims he is underpaid.

In United Arab Emirates guest workers make up 85% of its population (reports IHT [4]). Here people from the subcontinent earns about $1 an hour working in scorching 43 degrees heat. Their contracts are critiqued as servitude. While there are hotel rooms that rent for $1000 a night for the prosperous people, these migrant workers rise before dawn in guarded camps like an army base, work for six days a week at guarded sites. There are thousands of heat exhaustion cases of workers each month in one medical facility alone. The Government is under pressure to improve the working conditions and crack downs on Employers who does not pay them.

Human rights watch also has a report on abuse of workers in UAE titled “Building Towers, Cheating Workers [5]“.

Non-Saudis make up 35 percent of Saudi Arabia's labor force. An estimated 2 million workers are from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Human rights Watch publishes a 135 page report “Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia [6]“, which depicts how many of the immigrant workers are abused and treated as slaves.

Some of the frightening and troubling findings of the reports are:

* Sexual abuse and rape of women migrant workers, both in the workplace and in Saudi prisons by Saudi male employers.
* Migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Phillipines were forced to work ten to eighteen hours a day, and sometimes throughout the night without overtime pay.
* The pay is very meager (e.g. $133 for a month and 16 hours of work daily)
* Hundreds of low-paid Asian women who cleaned hospitals in Jeddah worked twelve-hour days, without food or a break, and were confined to locked dormitories during their time off.
* Migrant workers experienced shocking treatment in Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system.

Abdol Moghset Bani Kamal writes [7] in Countercurrents that Migrant Workers are the slaves of the Twenty-First Century. He highlights on the plight of Pakistani workers in the Middle East region especially Saudi Arabia.

Unheard Voices: Drishtipat Blog asks [8]:

What we, the average citizens, can do about this? The issue of the migrant workers has been unaddressed for a long time. Documentaries have been made [9], HRW reports have been published but nothing much has changed.

The Human rights blog suggests ways to protect Bangladeshi migrant workers.

What are the locals of the Gulf region are thinking about this issue? Bahraini Blogger Esra'a raises some questions [10] in a post in Mid East Youth:

What baffles me the most is that we simply don’t really understand that if it wasn’t for these migrant workers, we will be … well, nothing, right? Who else do we expect to do our work for us? Who else is constructing? Who else is cleaning our toilets? Who else do we take our anger on when we’re feeling miserable? Who do we laugh at and ridicule? They are extremely hard working, and if anything we should only feel thankful towards them. Instead we abuse them, discriminate against them, imprison them, and to top it all off we make infamous jokes where the words “Sri Lankan” and “Indian” are synonymous with “stupid” and “valueless.”