Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Return to research Posted on Nov 8 2012

On Tuesday, five explosions left two migrants dead and one critically injured. Bangladeshi national Shajib Mian Shukur Mian and Indian national Thirunavukarasu Murugaiyan both died of injuries sustained from explosives concealed as innocuous debris. An Indian sanitation worker, Dhana Ram Sainin, lost his right hand after picking up a nail bomb during his work route. Gulf Daily News transcribed a portion of Sanin’s interview with a local TV station here. Vehicles and residences belonging to migrant workers were also damaged by the explosions.

Community leaders believe the explosions deliberately targeted migrant workers, as the explosions occurred in an area known for its large expatriate population. The region’s municipal councilor, Ghazi Al Dossary, and other Bahraini officials also affirmed the calculated nature of these attacks.

However, the context of these tragedies remain uncertain. Bahraini officials adamantly ascribed culpability to opposition figures, who in turn have averred that the events instead reflect government machinations. The motive of either side to sacrifice migrants in their conflict is unclear, but regardless of the veritable circumstance Bahraini officials are evading accountability for these atrocities; for example, Al Dossary implicates Shiite and Sunni religious leaders in preventing attacks against migrant workers. Though religious bodies may successfully promote the humane treatment of migrant workers, responsibility for the protection of migrant workers ultimately lies with governing entities.

More troubling is the preeminence officials stress on the opposition’s role, indicating an intention to pursue political agendas and increase suppression of anti-government activities, rather than to secure the safety of migrant workers. Rather than blazoning incriminations to justify intrusions against opposition figures, the incident must be throughly investigated to ensure that the right parties are held accountable.

Yet the Bahraini government, as well as Indian and Bangladeshi embassy figures, offer migrant workers only paltry reassurances. Officials implore workers to avoid “strange” plastic bags or baggage – items that a worker is likely come upon during a shift or even a walk home. Further futile recommendations advise workers to “avoid putting themselves at risk” – despite the fact that the migrants maimed were literally going about their daily routines. Will the government ensure that employers cannot fire migrants who take these “extra precautions” and are likely to be perceived as neglecting their duties? Rather than reiterating thinly veiled threats against the opposition, Bahrain must dedicate resources to providing tangible safeguards for migrant workers.

Such atrocities are difficult to foresee, and certainly deviate from regularized violence against migrant workers. However, the deficient narratives remain the same – migrant-receiving governments avoid accountability, imputing other ambiguous third party entities while parroting false commitments to migrant welfare. Migrant-sending governments similarly shirk responsibility, refraining from genuine action and instead pledging to relay their demands to nations with a record of empty promises.

Meanwhile questions pivotal to migrant workers remain unanswered: What actual measures are being taken to secure densely populated migrant areas? Will migrants be compensated for damages to their residences and belongings? How will migrants feel safe navigating their daily routines?

In the midst of serious political conflagrations, Bahrain cannot neglect its migrant worker community. Bahrain actively pursues migrants to actualize critical economic objectives, and must execute its duty to protect these workers no matter the external political climate. While the legitimacy of the regime is hotly contested, the contemporary governing apparatus still holds primary responsibility for the safety of migrant workers.

Documentation, Bahrain, Bahrain, News & Events, Research, Working conditions

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Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East