During the last parliamentary session on 28 April, the majority of Bahraini MPs voted to deport irregular migrant workers. The MPs who pushed for the bill claimed that irregular migrants are “more dangerous” and more likely to spread Covid-19 virus among the population.
During the parliament session one of the sponsors of the proposal, MP Mohammed Buhmoud said: “There are 61,000 illegal workers and runaways who are more dangerous and could be positive (with COVID-19) … we must locate and deport these workers. Today the government is spending thousands and millions on them, aren’t the Bahraini citizens more deserving instead of spending on these (illegal migrants).”
Last month, Bahrain’s Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) announced an amnesty for irregular migrants until 31 December 2020. According to the LMRA, 13,284 irregular migrants have regularised their status in the first 26 days of the amnesty period.
But the MPs who pushed the bill were not satisfied with the LMRA’s initiative to regularise workers but called for their repatriation, similar to Kuwait’s Amnesty:
“The LMRA is saying that there are policies to regularise these workers, but this is the fear... that these illegals are regularized and allowed to stay in the country. Today we repeat, we don't want these (irregulars) in the country for the sake of protecting the citizen and his health," said Buhmoud.
The argument that irregular workers are more likely to be spreading COVID-19 does not stand up to reality; According to the LMRA, as of 26 April, of the 1,909 migrants who have tested positive for COVID19, the majority were those regular work permits (1,823 workers) and only 9% of all infected migrant workers had an irregular status.
The debate over the bill, besides being based on incorrect data, lacked any critical discourse over the reason migrant workers become irregular in the first place, nor the reasons for the rising number of COVID-19 cases among migrants.
The bill also contradicts the government’s assurances that irregular workers with symptoms can come forward for testing and treatment without fear of prosecution. The bill will now be considered by the Shura Council, and if approved, will be referred to the government for ratification. If the bill is put into force, irregular workers will be hesitant to come forward if they suspect of having symptoms, which could have the opposite intended effect on public health.