Void in coverage of Kuwait’s suicides

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Jun 12 2012

Migrant suicides are incredibly frequent in the Gulf, but Migrant Rights tries to avoid merely delineating list after list of their occurrences; deaths are more than mere statistics, despite the importance of these numbers in gauging migrant worker conditions. However, it can be difficult to analyze the little information provided in the publication of these incidents. For example, most of the recent deaths or suicides reported by Kuwait's Arab Times consist of just a few lines which convey a desensitized description of the facts. Put together, the only useful information garnered from three reports reads similar to the following:

On May 31st, an Ethiopian maid slit her wrists and was eventually captured by authorities, naked, outside of her sponsor's home. On June 1st, an asian maid attempted suicide by jumping from her sponsor's apartment. On the same day, another maid was reported to have hung herself in her sponsor's home.

Kuwaiti media does tend to report suicides more regularly than other Gulf outlets, but the greater coverage of migrant-related violence does not mean that Kuwait media is unbiased, or that it even pays critical attention to the plight of migrant workers. Reports of suicide or death are primarily relegated to superficial blurbs in the Crime Section, and are rarely followed up with any sort of explanation as to the proximate cause of death (be it ongoing physical abuse, loss of employment, etc.). If a sponsor is suspected to be involved in a death or suicide, their trial and possible conviction or punishment are never reported. The brief, incomplete reports demonstrate that they are not cases that generally induce journalistic interest, and that they do not reflect a genuine sensitivity to migrant worker conditions.

Often, it is foreign news papers that effort to comprehensively convey migrant experiences. Rather than depicting foreign workers at the same, single point in time, these reports delve into the details surrounding the incident - their living conditions, the nature of their work, their sponsor's history, and other information essential to contextualizing both the incident itself and the actions of the migrant worker.

For example, an article by the Global Nation Inquirier chronicles the story of a Filipino who fled her sponsor's home. The piece details the experiences Rachel Aquilisca Guzon, a former maid in Kuwait, instead of summarizing the government's interaction with her and her sponsor at the particular point of concern.

Certain details are vital to understanding both the specific case at hand and to inferring wider systemic patterns. In this case, Guzon worked for an official with the Kuwaiti defense ministry who physically and sexually abused her. Such information about the sponsor is critical to understanding the socio-economic privileges that engender into abuse. Additionally, details regarding the manner of abuse are essential for the public to grasp the extent of mistreatment faced by workers.

While not all of the details presented in Guzon's case may be available to media at the time crimes are reported, there are rarely ever efforts to gather information after the fact. Such lacksadasial approaches to these incidents give audiences the impression that they are expected occurrences of daily life that require no further explanation or attention.

Reports should endeavor to present migrant workers not as faceless victims, but as individuals that exist beyond the instant of "psychotic break down" or abuse. Such portrayals humanize migrants mores than mere enumerations of their plights because they demonstrate a reality in which workers live separate from subjection - a portrayal that challenges the normalcy of exploitation.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East