The Gulf States’ Migrant Worker Problem

The Gulf States are notorious for their vast oil wealth, with which they have been able to form powerful allies. As a result, much of their affairs are overlooked or accepted, despite their questionable nature. One such feature is their treatment of migrant workers and the means by which they restrict their freedoms.

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The migrant workers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait make up a significant portion of the population of these nations, yet they receive minimal benefits if any. The individuals come from all over Africa and Asia as well as from the Gulf States themselves. This system is known as Kafala, in which an individual is allowed to work in one of these nations if they are sponsored by an employer. This relationship becomes very similar to indentured servitude, however, when the sponsors refuse to allow the workers to further themselves and seek better employment. The workers are often made to pay off the cost of the sponsorship, which cripples their chance for social mobility if they still wish to send remittances to their families abroad. This creates a very difficult situation for the workers and is all too often the case.

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A large portion of the migrants work construction in these countries, which are building their infrastructure through the exploitation of these individuals. Even more shocking than the Kafala system itself is the death toll and treatment the workers. For example, a report revealed that almost 1,000 migrants perished while working construction in 2012-2013 in Qatar alone. This is without mentioning the sexual and physical abuse that is a constant factor, also. Unfortunately, the power and wealth held by the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council makes fixing the situation more difficult. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are exposing these crimes, but it is the duty of the international community to pressure these nations to enact change.

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