Migrant Abuse: March Roundup

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Apr 2 2013

Migrant Rights’ monthly roundups provide a snapshot of the conditions migrant workers face throughout the Gulf. These reports demonstrate the necessity of structural reforms by evidencing the regularity of nonpayment, exploitation, physical abuse and suicide.

EXPLOITATION
In the UAE, a woman sought claims against an employment agency that charged her illegal recruiting fees. Many other migrant workers commented on the article and shared similar experiences with scrupulous agents. The UAE has established a hotline for workers to report illegal fees (800665, recently added to our data base).

At least four cases of employers torturing domestic workers were documented this month; In Kuwait, a Nepali maid filed a complaint against her sponsor and his wife for torturing her. In Sharjah, an employer’s protracted abuse of an documented Ethiopian domestic worker was revealed after she poured hot oil on the maid’s head, prompting hospitalization. In Saudi Arabia, a mother and son were arrested for abandoning a pregnant maid’s body in a hospital parking lot. In Qatar, a Nepali maid trafficked into the country sought refuge in the Nepali embassy after escaping from an abusive employer. The maid alleges that her employer tortured her and refused to release her without a QR2000 payment.

Migrant workers generally face difficulty in pursuing cases against their employers unless they have the full financial backing of their embassies - an atypical phenomenon. In some states, migrants are unable to legally work for another sponsor and consequently are unable to support themselves or hire lawyers through the duration of their trials. The UAE allows migrant workers to obtain temporary permits to work in such situations, but the cost of trials remain prohibitive.

Migrant laborers also continued to face unsuitable working conditions. In Oman, over 10,00 migrants participated in a strike to demand improved safety standards after an Indian worker died.

SUICIDE
At least eight suicides and attempted suicides were reported this month. In Kuwait, an Indian expatriate denied emergency leave to visit his dying mother attempted to commit suicide. In Sharjah, two Indian migrants committed suicides in separate incidents; one migrant took his life at a construction site, the other in his home. In Ras Al Khaimah, an Asian expatriate attempted suicide by jumping from a five-story building. In Kuwait, a Sri Lankan domestic worker attempted suicide in her sponsor’s home. In Hafr Al-Batin, KSA, an African domestic worker attempted to hang herself. Another Asian housemaid attempted suicide by stabbing herself.

In many of these cases, “homesickness” or “problems at home” are cited as the workers’ impetus to commit suicide. The veracity of these claims is often unconvincing. In many incidents, a more complete explanation would also involve the migrant’s working conditions. Domestic worker suicides are not exclusive to the Gulf, but do occur frequently in nations that lack significant protections for workers and tacitly legitimize abuse. Employers are occasionally questioned regarding the circumstances of a workers’ suicide, but they rarely face significant penalties even if employer misconduct is determined. In contrast, migrant workers who attempt suicide have a criminal charge lodged against them, face fines, detainment, and possible deportation.

STRANDED WORKERS
A number of undocumented workers continue to be stranded throughout the Gulf. In Qatar, 45 Nepali workers remain stranded following their sponsor’s exploitative practices. 35 workers received no salary for months, and were not provided with residency permits. The workers are unable to return to Nepal because the companies confiscated their papers.

In Saudi, over 700 Pakistani migrants have remained stranded since 2011; employer’s lured the migrants in with false visas and failed to provide them with any paying work. Over 400 undocumented Indian migrants are also stranded in Saudi and face deplorable prison conditions. Stranded migrants have limited means to support themselves and sending-nations are extremely slow - or lack the resources - to redress to needs of their citizens.

In the UAE, an entire family remains stranded because of a company’s failure to pay a migrant worker. They are unable to leave until the family’s hospital bills are paid but despite a court ruling, the company has not compensated the father for his work.

While regular abuses persist, the upsurge in the frequency of Op-eds urging sponsors to treat their domestic workers fairly is extremely promising. These pieces also demand employers take accountability for the conduct or behavior of the employees they exploit or abuse. Op-eds that stress the virtues of treating migrant workers respectfully evidence a growing appreciation for universal human rights; this grassroots-level dialogue is essential to promoting migrant rights in the absence of enforced structural constraints, and furthermore facilitates cooperation with future reforms.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East