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Covid-19: GCC states must take careful steps to protect migrant workers 

On March 15, 2020

This post will be updated regularly. 

At least two GCC countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in migrant labour camps. According to sources in Bahrain, two migrants from the Almoayyed Contracting Group’s labour camp tested positive for the virus, and the camp’s 800 workers have since been placed on lockdown. 

In Qatar, an official statement identified expatriates “who reside in one residential complex’ had contracted the virus. Though the statement did not specify, the large increase in confirmed cases – from 24 to 337 points to an outbreak in a labour camp. 

Several Gulf states have banned the entry of nationals from several origin countries and published multilingual awareness-raising material targeted at the migrant workforce. For example, Bahrain’s LMRA has sent text messages about the virus in several languages to all migrants registered in their database, and Qatar has issued multilingual videos and texts as well. 

However, it is unclear what additional steps are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus amongst migrants already in the country. 

The majority of the region’s lower-income migrant workers live in crowded and often unhygienic conditions. Social distancing is being recommended as the best way to control the spread. However, this is going to be especially difficult for blue-collar workers in the region, who are housed six or eight to a room in the best of situations.

Many workers already complain of respiratory issues due to both their living and working environments. These conditions leave migrants vulnerable to health issues in the best of circumstances, and will especially accelerate the spread of the virus.  

There are careful steps that GCC states must take to protect migrants and deter the spread of the virus. These include: 

  • Require companies to bear responsibility for disinfecting accommodations, and ensuring that safety material is readily available (e.g. hand sanitizer, tissue paper, soap, water, masks)  
    • Develop specific recommendations for employers and make them widely available 
    • Inspect camps to ensure compliance and open hotlines for workers to report non-compliance 
    • Identify overcrowding and decongest accommodation
  • Raise awareness among workers, and reassure them that they will not be deported or lose their jobs if they report in sick
    • Provide advice for protective measures and reporting procedures to workers in their languages 
    • Ensure and clearly communicate that undocumented migrant workers can access health services without fear of penalty or deportation
    • Ensure migrants who are unable to work, either due to preventive quarantine or testing positive for COVD-19, are still paid
  • Set up easily accessible testing centres for workers who feel unwell
  • Carry out tests in the detention and deportation camps that are particularly cramped
  • Ensure transport and access to areas where workers are housed, so that workers are not cut-off from 
  • Provide transparent and timely information about the spread of the virus

It is not yet clear what the long-term repercussions of infection are, and GCC states need to commit to any care or treatment the workers would need in future.