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Rights Groups Issue a Statement on Suicides of Migrant Workers in Bahrain

On February 21, 2010

Below is a statement by the Bahraini Center for Human Rights and CARAM Asia about the wave of suicides by migrant workers in Bahrain.

The suffering of migrant workers must be addressed before they reach the point of suicide

CARAM ASIA & Bahrain Center for Human rights
February- 2010

The shocking cases of suicides committed by migrant workers in Bahrain reported since the beginning of 2010 are the continuation of a trend that should have been addressed years ago. The BCHR and CARAM[1] Asia condemns the failure of authorities and Bahraini civil society to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers, which in previous cases has been shown to lead to acts of desperation such as suicide.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts by stating that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," BCHR and CARAM ASIA Chairperson Nabeel Rajab said “Article 3 states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. If Bahrain is really serious about its commitment to Human Rights, and would like to maintain its position as a progressive model for neighboring nations, it must start to honour these very fundamental human rights.

"We have been talking about the shocking rates of suicide for too long already, it is time to take some sincere steps to understand the causes, and to make attempts to affect change."

In January 2010 alone, Bahrain has witnessed two cases of suicide and two cases of attempted suicide by migrant workers. According to the Gulf Daily News[2], 36 out of 131 cases of deaths by suicide in Bahrain in 2008 were Bahraini. The majority of suicides are said to have been committed by poor migrant workers. It was also reported that more than 30% of cases of suicide attempts handled by the government's psychiatric hospitals in 2008 were foreign domestic workers which believed to be mostly Asian. In 2007, out of 120 cases of death by suicide, 27 were Bahrainis. The BCHR previously reported that between January and April 2007 alone five migrant workers in Bahrain committed suicide.

"We should not really be shocked any more by these incidents since we have been seeing them occur for years now, without any attempt to improve the conditions that lead these workers to try and end their lives," Mr Rajab added. "What would drive a 22-year man to try and end his life?”We also know now, thanks to reports by rights groups, activists, social workers and the media, about the conditions in which migrant workers live in Bahrain. Without freedom of movement, in terrible working conditions, in inhumane living conditions. Violations include passports being withheld, salaries not being paid, abuse from employers, little support from the Bahraini government and the sending countries.

"We have been seeing the suicide attempts for years now, and we know well the degrading situation migrant workers are living in. Instead of being shocked we should be taking action to change this situation."

The BCHR and CARAM Asia calls on the Bahraini government to honour its commitment to human rights and the protection of foreign workers in its country. The authorities must use the legal means at their disposal to enforce better standards of work conditions, living conditions and treatment of workers.

The BCHR and CARAM Asia calls on sending countries to stop prioritizing remittances over the health, happiness, rights and safety of their nationals. The BCHR and CARAM Asia recognize that embassies and local representatives of sending countries have taken steps to improve their services to low-wage earning nationals in the last few years. We encourage this practice, but insist that sending countries and their representative’s embassies must take a greater role in being a source of support and information to their citizens working abroad.

The BCHR and CARAM Asia calls on social workers, activists, business people and Bahraini society to work together to create better standards of living and treatment of migrant workers in Bahrain.

"This calls for a change in mentality and practice," said Mr Rajab. "If we are serious about protecting the right to a life of dignity and security then we must work to provide a person in a desperate situation with a better option than ending their life."


[1] CARAM Asia is a Malaysian based regional NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is an open network of NGOs and CBOs. The CARAM Asia network is involved in action research, advocacy, coalition building and capacity building with the aim of creating an enabling environment to empower migrants and their communities to reduce all vulnerabilities including HIV and enhance their health rights globally.