Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to media Posted on Apr 14 2012

Absurd, fear-mongering stories have become a regular feature in Gulf media. Both the protagonists and the media outlets that uncritically publish (and sometimes purposefully distort) their tales contribute to the increasingly menacing narrative surrounding migrants and domestic workers. Just a few from this past month illustrate the trend we’ve recently reported on is still going strong.

Fear-mongering is apparent in several recent reports on the “AIDS maid” in Saudi Arabia. A employer sent a mass picture message of his recently absconded maid, ‘warning’ his fellow citizens not to employ her because she reportedly contracted AIDS. The text incited enough unrest to garner a response from local authorities, who announced an investigation into the claims. Days later, a Saudi woman accused the maid, who she had employed two years ago, of spreading the virus to her family members. The articles fail to note that AIDS can only be transmitted via body fluids (such as blood or semen), and consequently contributes to the alarmist tone of the content. As of yet, the woman’s whereabouts are unknown; given the very public nature of this witch hunt, she is likely alone and afraid.

In another article, domestic workers in Saudi are reproached for their “abusive tendencies towards children”. The usual warnings are doled out to parents to scrutinize their maid’s behavior and to clench already commanding control of their day-to-day existence. The evidence provided is, as usual, anecdotal, and punctuated with generalities. The articles fail to promote dialogue between employer and employee, instead imploring ‘responsible parents’ to baselessly suspect their domestic staff (in some cases, to spy on them), promoting tense working environments that help no one.

These stories plainly cultivate a culture of suspicion that seriously impact the well-being of migrant workers. The maid is the default suspect no matter the crime. In a recent incident, a maid was accused of theft only for authorities to determine the employer’s daughter was in fact responsible. We can’t know how many falsely accused maids weren’t luck enough to have been recused and lost their jobs as a result, or worse.

The conception of migrants as threats to society – rather than the backbone of public works and modern comforts – bears severe consequences; inflated, negative sentiments towards migrant workers justifies abuse and exploitation because societies’ enemies can be treated harshly without remorse. Misguided fears and resentment also discourage citizens from advocating on behalf of migrant rights in both social and legal contexts.

This site aims to provide a counter-narrative to these stories by amplifying the voices of workers. So we’ll continue to feature these articles, highlight their irrationalities, and underscore their serious ramifications.

GCC, Kuwait, Migrants in Media, Saudi Arabia

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East