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Kuwait: 800 Deported Every Year for Tuberculosis

On November 1, 2013

Health regulations in the Gulf continue to target migrant workers, depicting them as the sources of infectious diseases, as part efforts to reduce their numbers. Last June, Kuwait segregated health services by restricting morning hours to citizens and evening hours to migrants.  Authorities claimed the policy was implemented to reduce the workload on hospital staff, but the quality of services are unequal. Last August, Kuwait's Minister of Health also announced plans to enforce medical tests on migrant workers and deport those diagnosed with infectious diseases.

Last week, Al-Anbaa newspaper published an piece entitled  "800 expatriates are proved to be unfit for residency in Kuwait," featuring an interview with the Ministry of Health's tuberculosis specialist, Awatef al-Shammari.  The article presented the government's defense of TB deportations, but failed to probe if migrants with TB are truly "unfit" for work and residency. Migrants with healed TB pose virtually zero risk to public health, while migrants with active TB can be safely treated and released. The Gulf's outdated policies can actually represent a threat to public health, as migrants with TB are deterred from reporting to health authorities for treatment or encouraged to enter Gulf states through irregular channels.

Al-Shammari states that an average of 800 migrants are deported shortly after their arrival in Kuwait each year because of TB. She acknowledges the severe psychological, financial, and physical costs migrants are forced to bear because of deportation, but deflects accountability to origin countries. Al-Shammari blames the lack of proper medical testing in these countries, despite the fact that the Gulf's own association of medical centers are responsible for accrediting and regulating medical tests for migrant workers. Al-Shammari does not hold Kuwait's overly-restrictive and counter-productive health policies responsible for the burdens these migrants face, despite admitting that:

"I feel bad whenever we find another case of Tuberculosis because it is a disease that you can avoid and can be treated of completely."

Yet, migrants who are treated for TB are still deported, following a year "grace" period:

“If you are not a threat to the people around you, for example, TB (since it can be treated), you will be given at least one year on humanitarian grounds, since you have a family here and your children are studying. They’ll be given time to finish school before being sent out of the country,”

Diseases that incur immediate deportation incude leprosy and HIV.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that restrictions on travel are discriminatory except in extreme cases.  See our campaign to end the Gulf's discrimination against migrants with tuberculosis here.