Embassy Acts as Sanctuary for Absconding Citizens

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Oct 25 2011

Kuwaiti authorities are receiving complaints about an unnamed African Embassy protecting citizens that have absconded from their employers. Absconding, which involves leaving an employer in some manner without their consent, is a criminal offense under the Kuwaiti sponsorship system. The system binds migrants' work permits and legal residency to their employers (or sponsors). Migrants cannot quit or change jobs without their employer's permission. Even in cases of abuse, migrants who abscond from their sponsors can still face criminal charges as they scarcely enjoy any legal rights.

Human rights organizations regularly denounce sponsorship systems, as they render migrants completely dependent upon their employers and increase opportunities for abuse and exploitation. In the past, Kuwait has promised to alter and even abolish the system in favor of a government-managed ministry. But in 2009, Kuwait made only minimal changes to its migrant labor laws, none of which significantly reduced the system's vulnerabilities; foreign workers were permitted to change jobs without their employer's consent, but only after their initial contract had expired or 3 years had passed. Domestic workers were not affected by the new legislation at all. Repeated pledges to eliminate the sponsorship system by February 2011 have yet to be fulfilled. See HRW's report on sponsorship and abuse in Kuwait here.

It's rare for a nation to adopt such a seemingly antagonistic stance to local legislation; often, nations with a significant migratory population only very timidly approach issues concerning the rights of their citizens, in fear of risking economic ties with host countries. We will keep you updated on Kuwait's response to the embassy's bold move.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East