Free Asian Migration In Gulf States – Issues And Solutions Essay Example
Among migration trends the workforce migration is, probably, the most common one. And there is nothing to wonder here – everybody seeks better conditions for himself and his family to live in and better money to make, even when it means going half a world away.
Probably, the absolute leader (taken by the indicator of the region) in the workforce migration is the South-East Asian region. South-East Asians migrate literally all over the world to find employment but the Gulf States region is by far more popular among those job-seekers.
According to the statics as of 2010 almost 89 percent of the workforce in the United Arab Emirates is foreign workers. In Kuwait this indicator is lower – 60-65 percent, whereas in Saudi Arabia foreign workers total at only about 31 percent share.
The least Asian workers among the Gulf States work in Oman (30 percent) while the absolute leader is Qatar totaling at the immense share of foreign workers of 94 percent (Trends and Outlook for Labor Migration in Asia).
According to the statistics of remittances as a share of the GDP received from the emigrant workers among the countries people are most ready to leave behind in the search for work are Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Pakistan. The total amount of Asians travelling to the Gulf States from these countries is estimated at the huge number (well, huge at least for the very Gulf States, not so much for the Asian countries) of 2 million. Annually! (“Trends and Outlook for Labor Migration in Asia”)
The first thing to consider when dealing with the given topic is what are the incentives, which push the nationals of South-East Asian countries to seek for better job opportunities, even given the ongoing controversy among human rights organizations as per the sometimes appalling conditions of work, bad attitude, underpayment and various types of harassments.
I think there are quite a bunch of these incentives and here are the principal of them according to how I see it:
The first one is, of course, the domestic situation, including the undeveloped stance of economy and authoritarian political regimes, which contribute significantly to a need to go abroad and earn. The second one is relative geographical proximity of the Gulf States. The third reason is cultural and religious similarity. This may not seem as a major incentive as it does not bear any financial sense in it, but given that many of Asian countries have a significant fraction of Muslim in the society this creates a feeling for potential job-seekers that going to seek for a job in the Gulf they do not exit their zone of comfort. The fourth one is a group of financial – and therefore, probably, the strongest ones – incentives, the primary of which, obviously, is how not only rich but literally opulent these countries are, which logically makes them a great attraction for the poor Asians. The fifth one is good job expectations, notwithstanding numerous issues debated by the human rights organizations. It is really true that it is very often the case that an employer provides his employees with accommodation or even boarding. One of the major attractions is also the actual necessity of the Gulf States in workforce. This is connected to the tendency of a very rapid development of these countries. A particular case within the tendency mentioned is Qatar which is scheduled to host the World Cup in 2022.
However a huge problem overhauls over this entire Asian trend to migrate to the Gulf States in search for work. And the name of this problem is “human rights.” Violations in this field can be grouped, as I see it, into two categories.
The first category relates mostly to abuses of legal nature. These include the literal absence of social protection of migrant workers in the Gulf States, absence of an effective system of feedback and, therefore, of a simple possibility to file a complaint against one’s employer. Beyond that, employers in the Gulf States go sometimes as far as taking away a worker’s documents making him consent therewith to any conditions he, employer, will articulate. With this in the background, it deems almost as a mockery to dwell on the issue of signing a formal contract or something. Legislation in the questions touching upon labor of women is literally discriminatory, as there is almost no legislation on the issue at all, and a woman, therefore, legally cannot be considered a worker which gives much space for employers to commit abuses. But the main problem is probably the quasi-legal cover for all these abuses which to a great extent not only justifies such action on the part of the employers, but also legalized them. I speak about the kafala – a system, “which has been created to provide the central government with a means to regulate labor flow into the Gulf Cooperating Council states and monitor workers activities to mitigate security concerns,” but also a system which is “considered highly restrictive and not based on best practices.” (Roper et al, p.38).
In practice, the kafala systems literally binds the employers to think of their workforce by themselves, making visa, permits and other suchlike questions their own concern. At the same time, such autonomy from the state gives these employers an opportunity not to be overregulated too much. Or even a little, to be frank.
The second group deals mostly with more practical aspect of the work process. Among the issues that constitute the biggest troubles are:
Absence of rights to form union;
Quite frequent absence of payments for the work done;
Excessive time of work. It is estimated than in many cases employers in the Gulf States make their Asian employees work more than 100 hours a week.
Literal absent of any free time.
Physical abuse. As per men this touching upon being occasionally punched and beaten; what goes about women, this is primarily sexual harassment;
Psychological and verbal abuse;
Frequent labor without being paid, which is usually explained by the employer by the expenses he bore organizing the visa and other permits and dull paper work he had to arrange.
A very striking example is Qatar, as its hosting 2022 World Cup has drawn about 2.4 million of Asian workers, so the image of what is going there is both well illustrative but literally frightening. Suffice it to say that abuses in the unpaid wages, confiscation of passports, physical abuse and force labor were used even here, in the place, where in virtue of the official and ceremonial nature of the event to be held in Qatar in 2022 formal contracts with workers have been widely signed (“Death Toll Among Qatar’s 2022 World Cup workers revealed”). Moreover, some data as to how many workers have died in 2014 at the constructions works in Qatar has leaked to the press. And the digits are really daunting – every two days a Nepal citizen died. Information on other nationalities lacks but it seems like there is a very certain tendency, if not a concrete number, to suspect (“Death Toll among Qatar’s 2022 World Cup workers revealed”). It makes an impression, that no law is binding upon the employers and the authorities not only seem not to be against this, but seem to support the tendency in a taciturn manner.
It must be said that on the purely formal level there have been some work done. For instance, a national plan for the assistance of the abused workers was announced in 2003 in Bahrain. The plan provided for a help hotline and temporary shelter. Also, at the same time Bahrain started raising awareness about the rights of the workers, spreading brochures and other literally useless sheets of paper both among employers and employees (“Asian Migration in the Gulf”). Also, the Gulf States are parties to quite a number of conventions protecting the rights of migrants, which means that formally they try to position themselves on the international plane as peace-loving and just healthy states. However it seems that all
these measures were just meant, as usually in such cases, to please the International Labor Organization and to show it that some work is being done, new ideas and their implementation is underway and so on and so forth. In practice, it seems that nothing has changed.
And Bahrain is the first example in the row, similar to almost every other. To substantiate this thought suffice it to look into the Migrants’ Rights January 2013 report (“Migrant Abuse: January Roundup”).
The most appalling piece of news was execution of Sri Lankan worker Rizanna Nafeek, which was condemned literally by the whole world as a brutal violation not only of workers, but human rights.
Mass strikes were reported to take place in the end of January 2013 in Saudi Arabia, which was organized by over seven thousand Asian workers after they were denied their salaries. The work on the project was halted whereas the workers threatened that they would not reassume the work until paid the due sum. The Saudi Arabian authorities seem to have made the protester seek justice in the hallways of the bureaucratic buildings, which once more means they just mocked at the protesters.
In Kuwait, an employer conducted continuous sexual harassment on a maid employed at his home until she managed to escape from the hell of being repeatedly raped by her master and his two brothers. By the way, what touches upon sexual harassment, the fact that this all happened in Muslim states does not mean that this is a rare case. To the contrary I would say. 42 percent of Asian women workers in the Gulf States are home workers and a very substantial fraction of them continuously report abuse or attempts of abuse.
Scheming organized by the employer made several women seek shelter at the Embassy of their own country in the United Arab Emirates after they had been trafficked to the country with the use of false documents, after which they were sold to another person. Now, this is again not just an abuse of a migrant worker, it is already an attempt to deprive a person of fundamental human rights.
Particular attention must be drawn to the fact that sometimes abuses on migrant workers lead to their suicide like it happened with a Nepali worker employed in Kuwait, or to their committing murders, like in the case of another Nepali worker, who stabbed her employee, according to the same report (Migrant Abuse: January Roundup).
Until very recently literally nothing except for, maybe, small thing were done as a pacifying reaction of the authorities of the Gulf States. However, starting at the end of 2013 and all the way through 2014 two major things happened.
The first thing was the standardization of contracts for domestic workers. The modified document provided for all the necessary things, needed for observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms: an 8-hour working day, annual vacation, a weekend and the right to move between different locations both within and outside the country (earlier it had de-facto been restricted by the employers to even leave the premises of the mansion or of the construction site). Again, this may be not certain that the authorities of the Gulf States will be filling bound by these new regulations and turn into good employers in a second. Personally I do not buy that. However, it must also be said that literally never before such an alignment of all the Gulf States was expressed by them in similar matter, as well as transparency (again – yet only formal), stipulated in the contracts of the new format.
The second move in the Gulf States’ policy was holding a forum between the labor ministers of the Gulf States and 12 “labor supply nation” of Asia: India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and others (“Gulf Agreements on Improved Migrant Worker Conditions Unlikely to Fend off Activist Pressure”).
When criticism started to become what one could characterize as aggressive and started to be targeted not only at Qatar, but at literally each Gulf State, the countries of the region made several moves, which, however, seem to be of more a symbolic nature. Among others, the process of consideration of complaints filed by the migrant workers has become faster. However, no one thought to look into the problems causing those complaints, so it seems like a small touch-up, but not reform – not even remotely. To the contrary, notwithstanding that certain things, as I have already mentioned, have demonstratively improved – like electronic payment system or even the brand the contract form, events of deportation - of a quite radical tackling dissent among migrant workers - have become more frequent.
There is one serious issue, which implies that attitude towards migrant workers will not improve significantly not only soon but at all. The issue is national security, and though it may seem not so evident to talk about national security in disputing attitude towards migrants, in fact this is very logical. According to different researches, migrant workers constitute up to 40-45 percent not only of the entire number of laborers, but of population of the Gulf States in general (!) which clearly poses a serious threats to national identity of the Gulf States, their economies, making them more dependent on workforce influxes, and to political stability, as laborers coming from the other countries can trigger certain social mainsprings. Given the nature of the Gulf States regimes, this trend is very dangerous for the Gulf monarchies.
In this context, the problem of excessive work migration was viewed as a threat already more than 10 years ago. In 2004 the Bahraini Minister of Labor and Social Affairs said at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council States that “non-Arab working foreign workers constitute a strategic threat to the region’s future”(Roper et al, p.50). The GCC Secretary General Abdul Rahman Al Attiya emphasized at the very same meeting that the increase in the number of migrants poses the threat to national security not only in economic terms (Roper et al, p.50).
All these negative trends have forced the Gulf States to think of countermeasures, the primary of which have become the nationalization plans, according to which a certain percentage share of workplaces is reserved for the nationals only, especially in such strategically important productions, like energy production, primarily oil. Therefore, it turns out that the Gulf States are not interested in pushing too much forward the legalization of migrant workers and bettering their social conditions. To the contrary, the Gulf States are more likely to accentuate the trend of creating such conditions that will make migrant workers think of either going back home or searching for some other workplace.
If I try to appraise the dynamics of how the problem is being dealt with, I wouldn’t, despite small moves on the part of States, buy the notion that the abuse practice is going to be brought to an end any time soon. The problem is not only in human rights, but also in the fact that the sheiks know that laborers need them, which means that they, sheiks, are masters and can do many things which are not permitted, while they are just hushed at but not being imposed sanctions on or something.
Therefore, I think that more drastic reaction of the world community is needed. I think that the problem should not be dealt with by just Human Rights Watch and suchlike organizations but be propounded from the tribune of the United Nations General Assembly. In this case, there is a bigger chance to change something. But again – chatting is no good without any action, which means that, for example, depriving Qatar of the right to hold the World Cup would look more symmetrical am answer to abuses than just talking about them.
All in all, I do not feel satisfied with how the problem is coped with and stand in favor of a harsher attitude to the Gulf States – primarily by the economic means so that to hit them more strongly for what they do.
“90 Rights Groups Call For Urgent Action to Protect Migrant Workers in Gulf Countries.” Gulf Countries: Increase Migrant Worker Protection. 23 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 March 2015.
“Asian Migration to the Gulf.” Asian Century Institute. 26 March 2014. Web. 12 March 2015.
“Death Toll Among Qatar’s 2022 World Cup workers revealed.” The Guardian. 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 March 2015.
“Gulf Agreements on Improved Migrant Worker Conditions Unlikely to Fend Off Activist Pressure.” The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. 02 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
International Labour Organization. Trends and Outlook for Labor Migration in Asia. 2013. PDF. 12 March 2015.
“Migrant Abuse: January Roundup.” Migrant Rights. Org. 1 Feb 2013. Web. 12 Mach 2015.
Roper, Steven D. and Lilian A. Barria. “Understanding variation in Gulf Migration and Labor Practices.” Middle East Law and Governance Journal. 2014. PDF. 12 March 2015.
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