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Jordan deports workers despite pending legal disputes

On November 20, 2014

Mass raids and deportations of migrant workers violate local and international law

Jordan's Ministry of Labor did not think twice about the destiny of Ahmed, a migrant worker who has a pending court case against his employer. When Ahmed was arrested for failing to renew his work permit, the ministry did not think of any solution for him other than deportation.. Legally, Ahmed has the right to remain in the country until his case is resolved in court.

Ahmed is only one among thousands of migrant workers in Jordan who have been detained and deported without due trial. The ministry's official numbers indicate that 25,160 workers have been arrested, 3,475 of them already deported, despite criticism from local NGOs.

“I was deported within two days and no one paid any attention to me when I told them that I have a pending case in court. I got punished for a fault that I have not committed, because my employer alone has the power to renew my work permit” said Ahmed, adding:

“how can I ask my employer who has exploited me and did not pay my salaries, to renew my work permit? He knows that I have a complaint against him. Would he renew it without blackmailing me to drop the case and give up my rights?”

Article 12 of the Jordanian labor law dictates that a migrant without a valid permit will be deported and cannot be recruited for three years.. Ahmed came to Jordan less than two years ago after having paid $1200 USD to an unscrupulous recruiter. He sold his wife's gold and borrowed from his friends to pay this “fee”, promising to pay them back with his earnings in Jordan.

Ahmed came to Jordan to work in construction labor; he performed one task after another, moving rocks all day to the building site and in the afternoon, then cleaning his employer’s office or preparing tea and coffee for him. His employer also asked him to take on other tasks, such as buying groceries for the company or for himself.

Ahmed worked 12 hours a day, and did not receive his legally ordained weekly rest day. His company provided him with a room that did not meet minimum hygiene requirements; it was 3x3 meters with a bathroom and no kitchen, shared with four other workers.

Despite the harsh conditions Ahmed endured, including the daily insults from his employer, he continued to work in order to pay off his recruitment debts and improve his family’s quality of life.. He supports a wife, two kids, his parents, and three sisters who are still in school.

But Ahmed’s real surprise came when he did receive his first month’s salary.  His employer told him he was hsort on cash, and that he would receive his payment in ten days. Ahmed confronted his employer, the employer told him he will be receiving money in ten days and will pay him then. Ahmed waited ten days and once against asked for his salary. His employer paid him only a quarter of his dues, promising to pay the rest in the following month. Months passed, and Ahmed still received no salary.  He was afraid to leave his employer, and risk not getting his past salaries from him. By time, the promises turned to threats: Ahmed's permit expired and he asked his employer to renew it for him, a requirement under the Kafala system. The employer refused, telling Ahmed he would report him to the police and get him deported.

After three months in limbo and without payments, Ahmed decided to leave his job and approached the Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights.. The center helped him register a case but two months after submitting his complaint, Ahmed was arrested in a joint raid by the Ministory of Labor and the Interior Ministry. The next day, he was sent to al-Aqaba province (400 km away from Amman the capital) for deportation.

The Tamkeen center is still monitoring his case. Jordan’s labor law sets a three months period to resolve labor disputes. Yet Ahmed has been waiting for at least seven months without a solution. Similarly, another worker ,Osama, appraoched Tamkeen to submit a complaint against his employer for non-payment of salary. Osama worked for months without payments, enduring long working hours and physical  assaults.

“No worker is happy being undocumented in the street” says Osama, “we face real horrors every minute when we are in the streets, but there's nothing in our hands to do because our employers have all the power and abuse us.”

Osama was similarly arrested and deported, but continues to follow his case with Tamkeen, hopeing his payments will eventually arrive.

Linda Kalash, head of Tamkeen center, says deportations are used as a weapon of collective punishment against migrant workers of all nationalities and that deportation decisions are made routinely and quickly without due process. “Authorities deport any migrant arrested, even if they had a residency,” she said. Those who face deportations are not allowed to appeal before the decision is applied. Moreover, Kalash criticizes the labor law for making the renewal of work permits and residencies a duty for employers, while punishing the workers if the employers do not renew their papers.

One striking example Kalash provides is the arrest and deportation of 111 workers who have arrived only four days before their arrests. These workers did not have enough time to finalize their paperwork, and were supposed to have 45 days, as the law states, to obtain their permits. 45 other workers were deported for “labor violations” and not for lacking work permits.

“Workers are living in a state of panic” says Kalash, “even those who have permits are afraid to leave their homes.” Last October, one construction worker jumped off the second floor of a construction site, trying to escape a sudden raid. He now resides in a public hospital with a broken hand and leg, in addition to other wounds.

Jordanian lawyer Muath al-Momni of Lawyers without Borders considers the mass raids a violation of international treaties that prohibit harsh and humiliating treatment; Jordan’s deportations, he specified, violates article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which obligates countries to grant the right to appeal for migrants, as well as the Anti-Torture Agreement which criminalizes state acts such as humiliation, abuse, and collective punishment.

“Would the worker be deported if the employer has complained against him?” asks al-Momni, “these deportations abort their rights to fair trials.”

Another lawyer, Ayman Halasa, said Jordan’s labor laws are never concerned with protecting workers' rights. “These laws give complete power to employers which then exploit their legal privileges to abuse and threaten workers” he explained, adding “this results into severe cases of abuse, or even forced labor and human trafficking.” Halasa suggests that Jordan revise its labor laws to meet all international treaties that the country is supposed to respect.

Ayman al-Khawalda, the head of inspection unit at the ministry of labor, said the ministry continues its campaign (even in holidays) “to regulate the local labor market.” When asked about deportations, al-Khawalda said that 55% of those arrested are Syrians and cannot be deported to their country, while 5% are arrested “due to an administrative mistake” because they attempt to escape when seeing inspectors although they have legal status, while others get their deportations cancelled by paying 2000 dinars ($2807 USD), as per the decision of the labor minister. 322 workers have had their deportations cancelled this year by paying this “fee.”

In defense of the ministry's deportations of migrants who have pending cases, al-Khawalda explained: “we are an administrative body. Our task ends at the arrest of the worker and issuing their deportation order. After that, it is the responsibility of security authorities to insure a worker's legal status and taking the final decision.” A recent study by Tamkeen shows how deportations have become instant administrative decisions that deny the right of migrants to get their payments or send any savings home prior to their forced departure.

Jordan has not signed the UN’s foundational treaty to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families (1990). Halasa exclaims “Jordan cannot protect the rights of regulated and undocumented workers without signing this treaty and seriously working on achieving it.”