10 Bangladeshis were killed in a fire that struck an illegal make-shift labor camp designed to hold less than half that number. The lodgings were never inspected by the government because the workers who leased the space were illegals – migrants who remained in the country after their work contracts expired. Illegal migrants across the Gulf avoid contact with government establishments, forgoing administrative safeguards in order to maintain employment.
Bahraini authorities obviated responsibility for the incident, blaming the migrants for subjecting themselves to these conditions. A spokesperson claimed the deaths should not have occurred because they “never should have been there.” However, they never would have resided in the legally invisible building had Bahrain abolished the sponsorship system as promised in 2009. The migrants did not enter the country legally, but became illegal because their visas – their means of subsistence – were tied to their sponsors. Migrants are required to return home before accepting other employment, a disruption many are unable to endure.
A Pakistani migrant also lost his life due to improper working conditions. The window cleaner fell 17 floors to his death because he was not provided with safety harness equipment. While Bahraini authorities acknowleged the noncompliance of his employers, the man’s family may still receive no insurance money because he,too, violated a sponsorship law; the man allegedly took side jobs to send more money home to his family, daring to challenge the binds to his sponsor.
Though these deaths appear loosely related, they illustrate the unfairness underlying Bahrain’s foreign labor policies. The sponsorship system in particular compounds labor inequalities, perpetuates employment insecurity, and engenders the conditions most dangerous to migrant workers.