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Kuwait Continues Fierce Crackdown on Migrant Workers

On June 30, 2013

Kuwait’s mass deportation of undocumented migrant workers has continued unabated since early this year. Other GCC states including Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar also launched reinvigorated ‘security’ campaigns against undocumented migrants in 2013, but on a comparatively smaller scale. Though Kuwait is within its rights to arrest and deport undocumented migrants, it must still do so within a rights-based framework; migrants should hold the right to individual review of their case as well as be granted access to translation and representative services. Kuwait’s indefinite detention of migrants and the inability to contest their status contravenes its public pledges to international norms.

Furthermore, the policy and coverage of migrant arrests unfairly criminalizes migrant workers and ignores the complicity of employers. Though employers may face penalties for hiring undocumented workers - such as a fine or ban from hiring more migrants - they are not as invasive as those imposed on migrant workers, nor are they always enforced. Employers who hire undocumented workers are never reported in local media and their photographs at the time of arrest are not distributed. The imbalanced reporting of the migrant crackdown reinforces xenophobic stereotypes of migrant workers as a social ill.

While Saudi Arabia’s amnesty program is imperfect, it does comprise a more-informed response to the undocumented workforce. Kuwait should similarly permit migrants to correct their status, particularly as many migrants may have been forced into an irregular status due to exploitative working conditions. Furthermore, many undocumented migrants are critical to the operation of kuwaiti businesses - at best, their deportation leaves vacancies that must again be re-filled by migrant workers. The inefficient cycle of deportations and recruitment has negatively impacted Gulf economies in the past.

The Kuwaiti government could better achieve its objective of reducing illegal workers by legislating further protections for migrant workers and ensuring that firms cooperate with regulations, preventing migrants from absconding into an illegal work status. Fair, easier, and less expensive pre-employment requirements would discourage both employers and migrants from seeking extra-legal recruitment. Kuwait’s mass deportation schemes have previously failed to curb illegal migration, as they represent short-term responses to long-term and structural issues.