Most GCC states are providing Covid-19 vaccinations to non-citizen residents free of charge. Though vaccine access in a few Gulf countries was initially discriminatory, the predominating concern now is that irregular and undocumented migrants are not appropriately factored into vaccine campaigns.
Millions of migrant workers in the Gulf have irregular status or do not have access to their residency documents and are still unable to register and access vaccine, not only are they vulnerable but by excluding large segments of the population vaccine campaigns are also made less effective.
In a recent positive development, the Bahraini government has begun to register and vaccinate irregular migrants with the cooperation of embassies and migrant community groups, six months after officially launching its vaccination campaign.
Various embassies and migrant community groups in Bahrain have started to collect information from irregular migrants to register them for the Covid-19 vaccine. The Indian Embassy, with the assistance of the Indian Community Relief Fund, for example, has initiated a campaign to vaccinate every Indian resident in Bahrain, regardless of their status.
According to reports, there are an estimated 70,000 irregular migrants without documentation in Bahrain. The country has witnessed a surge in Covid-19 infections last month and is currently under a lockdown that has been extended until 2 July 2021. The government has also implemented strict regulations that restrict unvaccinated individuals from accessing or working in malls, salons, restaurants and offices providing government services.
Several irregular migrant workers Migrant-Rights.Org spoke to stressed that they were still reluctant to approach government centres that administer the vaccine for the fear of arrest. In this regard, the government of Bahrain and migrant community groups and embassies must do more to assure irregular workers that they will not land into trouble for registering for the vaccine. The government must ensure there is a firewall between vaccine access and immigration authorities.
The government of Bahrain should also consider allowing walk-in for Covid-19 vaccines, given that many irregular migrants distrust their embassies and refuse to register with them, while others do not have the means to register online. According to social workers, this distrust and lack of means have been exploited by some who illegally charge migrants for vaccine registration.
Bahrain should also study the option of providing mobile Covid-19 vaccine clinics in areas populated by undocumented and low-income migrant workers such as Al-Noaim or Gudaibiya, as many cannot access vaccination centres located in other parts of the country.
According to sources, Bahrain’s health ministry is currently providing three of the four available vaccines (Covidshield-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines) for irregular migrants. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which Bahrain has prioritised for people over the age of 50 and at-risk groups, is not yet available for irregular migrants.
While Bahrain has taken a step in the right direction in providing relatively equitable access to Covid-19 related healthcare and vaccine, the exclusion of migrants from financial relief during the current lockdown means that many migrants are currently enduring hardship. Incomes have dried up due to “No Work, No Pay” policies, leaving even documented migrants vulnerable to food scarcity and eviction.
In a region governed by a labour migration system that renders migrant workers irregular with a click of a button and confiscation of documents all too common, it is vital that the GCC states include its large number of irregular migrants into their vaccine campaigns if it wants to ensure the safety of their entire population.
Other GCC states are yet to officially include irregular migrant workers into their Covid-19 vaccination programmes, though they have provided free vaccines for their regular non-citizen residents.
Below are the links for Covid-19 vaccine registration for irregular migrants in Bahrain
|Migrant community group||Link/contact for vaccine registration|
|The Embassy of the Philippines||+97339953235 (WhatsApp)|
|For all other nationalities, Migrant Workers Protection Society||https://www.mwpsbahrain.com/|
Image source: Bahrain News Agency
Edited 28-6-21: Oman has recently updated its vaccine program. MR will share an overview of its program separately.