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Where are the Protests for Migrants' Rights?

On March 7, 2011

Below are excerpts from a great op-ed by Steve Royston for the Bahraini Gulf Daily News. His article explains why in this age of popular uprisings, protesters are not lifting the banner of migrant workers' rights. The article illustrates the difficulty of advancing migrants' workers human rights in the region, where if oppressed citizens do fight they focus on their own rights, and the migrants are too weakened to fight for themselves.

[Migrant workers] often work in a climate of institutional racism, not only from locals but from other migrants further up the food chain. Treated with disdain. Summoned and dismissed by a click of the fingers.
The demands of the protesters across the region are about the rights of citizens. I have not heard any protester rooting for the Bangladeshis, Keralites and Indonesians. No calls for labour laws to be adhered to, health and safety standards to be enforced, and for physical abuse to be punished with the full force of the law. Most of the time, these workers do not protest because they fear for their jobs. Their embassies might complain and provide what practical help they can, but they have little diplomatic and practical leverage, apart from barring their people from working in the region. But the effect of such measures is to damage the home economies.

Unfortunately, the suffering and exploitation of migrant workers will remain as long as citizens focus on their own rights and as long as migrant workers continue to be systematically disempowered, making them hesitant about fighting for their own rights. All across the Middle East, migrant workers are prevented from forming labor unions, striking and are deprived of collective bargaining rights. Migrant workers can be deported easily, and they have in the past, for striking, getting sick or simply displeasing their sponsor. The Sponsorship system that regulates foreign labor in most Middle Eastern countries ties the legal status of the worker to his employer, making workers unable to protest their conditions, knowing they'll surely lose their job and won't be able to support their families back home.