Friday, 23rd April, 2021
Democracy Centre for Diplomacy organised a virtual meeting to feature the current status of migrant workers in the Gulf. The meetings hosted Heidi Hautala MEP, Vice-president of the European Parliament and member of the Delegation for relations with countries of southeast Asia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Marianne Vind MEP, Vice-chair of delegation for relations with the southeast Asia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations; Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and Irudaya Rajan, Professor at Centre for Development Studies.
Heidi Haulata started her intervention reminding that the situation of migrant workers has become really a human and social right issue, and it is well-documented and long standing problem. “ Kafala system puts migrant workers’ lives at risk in terms of passport confiscation, inadequate access to justice, bad accommodation , and lack of sufficient medical assistance”, Hautala asserted.
MEP Hauatala referred to the recent violations committed by Saudi Arabia against African workers in detention centres under unpleasant conditions, confirming that the progress taking there is still not enough. On the other hand, she hailed and welcomed the noticeable reforms in Qatar especially with Kafala system through allowing migrant workers to choose their work on their own accord and setting up the minimum wage scheme.
MEP Marianne Vind said that the issue of migrant workers has become more significant during the pandemic, bringing about several consequences and badly affecting millions of people at different aspects including low wages, racial and gender-based discrimination, enforced labour; and exploitation of cheap labour. “ There must a dire need to find a comprehensive solution in cooperation with the Middle East governments”, Marianne Vind maintained.
“Qatar has regularised its industrial relations system and dismantled the systematic power imbalance between workers and employers. These changes are a break with the past and offer a future for migrant workers in Qatar underpinned by laws which respect workers, along with grievance and remedy systems” Marinne Vind noted. She also flagged the necessity to incorporate human rights into the entire process of migrant labour, and to adopt diplomatic channels to continue the dialogue.
Professor Irudaya Rajan introduced a briefing on his survey in people who returned back from the Gulf because of the pandemic. He said that migrant workers have been subject to 4 major violations: Confiscation of their passports and documents, contract substitution, wage theft, and closure of borders.
“ Negotiations with the gulf contraries need to be continued till achieving a better situation for migrant workers there”, he added.
Shedding light on the main trends of violations against migrant workers in the Gulf, Mr. Khalid Ibrahim said that migrant workers are overworked and deprived of their salaries for few months securing their money for “ security deposit”, and they are exposed to racial discrimination and physical abuse.
Mr. Ibrahim continued to criticise the Kafala system as a real contradiction with human rights principles and international conventions. “ It cannot be tolerated that migrant workers are not allowed to established unions to defend their own rights” he deplored.