Kuwaiti Columnist Blames Migrants for the Failure of Social Services

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Nov 27 2013

A recent Arab Times poll probing attitudes towards Kuwait’s migrant policies revealed that 54% of respondents expected Kuwait to drastically reduce the number of migrant workers in the next 10 years, in accordance with the minister of labor’s undertaking and due primarily to “unfriendly attitudes towards expatriates, seeing them as job-stealers and hollowing out the country’s social services, will cause expatriates to leave the country.”

Kuwaiti writer Khaled Aljenfawi penned an endorsement of the majority respondents. Aljenfawi argues that a significant reduction is welcome because “the number of expats exhausts the country’s social and health services.” Aljenfawi does not acknowledge that policies unfairly criminalize and dehumanize migrant workers, only regurgitating the xenophobic rhetoric that is popularly voiced against migrants.  With a blind to eye to the reciprocal nature of economic migration and the exploitation of migrants at the hands of both the state and the employer, Aljenfawi falls into the common trend of “reverse victimization” that so often plagues Gulf op-eds; unemployment, crime, and an alleged “anti-Arab” counter-racism list among the ills of the migrant population.

The notion that migrant workers usurp employment opportunities from educated and capable Kuwaitis is a disproved sentiment often propagated by the Kuwaiti government and echoed by uninformed or xenophobic individuals. The majority of migrant workers are hired for jobs, wages, or conditions that Kuwaitis are unwilling to accept or unable to perform. Most of the migrant workers affected by Kuwait’s changing visa and social services policies are low-income workers, whose cheap labor is eagerly exploited by investors and who perform job Kuwaitis deem “unsuitable” for their social status and financial expectations. These facts are widely known but ignored by the author.

Reverberating a common Gulf media trope, Aljenfawi proceeds to reverse power relations by victimizing the country’s nationals. He criticizes migrants’ alleged stereotypes of Kuwaitis  as obese, ostentatious materialists. Though Kuwaitis are apparently free to hold the abovementioned misconceptions of migrant workers,  “no one has the right to vent their anger on Kuwait, while at the same time continue to exploit its resources, and ridicule or belittle its people.” Aljenfawi fails to acknowledge that these stereotypes are benign, even if indeed commonly held, unlike the structurally reinforced racism towards migrant workers.  

But it is precisely this rejection of migrant realities and self-victimization that permits Aljenfawi to posit rights to education, health care, and other social services as exclusive to citizens. Such sentiments seek to legitimize the differentiation between citizen and migrants, justify the exploitation of foreign workers, and perpetuate the inequitable status quo. Migrant-Rights.org continues to urge media outlets and establishments to challenge discourses that directly contribute to the plight of migrant worker rights.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East