A recent Guardian article about the lives of migrant workers in Qatar highlights the issues of forced labour and slavery in middle eastern and some European countries.
As the Guardian article notes; Qatra has the highest ratio of migrant workers to the domestic population in the world; more than 90%. Aidan McQaude of Anti-Slavery International has no hesitation in calling many of these migrants not just forced labour, but true slaves; people who are treated as objects.
Craig Murray, ex British ambassador to Uzbekistan and long time campaigner against child labour/slavery in their cotton fields, notes that both the tolerance and the exploitation of slavery or cheap labour inevitably goes right to the top. In Uzbekistan’s case, to its torture loving President Karimov and his daughter (who are such good friends with Tony Blair!) . Anti Slavery International describes the working conditions for children in the cotton fields thus: Cotton production in Uzbekistan is a state orchestrated forced-labour system. The Government of Uzbekistan forces over a million children, teachers, public servants and private sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions each year. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, and denied public benefits or worse. The Government harasses and detains citizens seeking to monitor the situation.
In Qatar’s case, the official responses to the accusations of slavery are so far at odds with the reality on the ground , that it would be very surprising that the government authorities and companies involved did not have full cognisance of the systemic exploitation occurring.
Asia News notes that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) highlighted “contradictions with Qatari law” that fail “to give workers any real rights or protection from slavery conditions.”
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the visa sponsorship system in Qatar allows the exaction of forced labour. “Under Qatari law, employers have near total control over workers. They alone choose if a worker can change jobs, leave the country or stay in Qatar,” she said.
In 2012, the Labour Relations Department in Qatar’s Labour Ministry received 6,000 worker complaints. The top concerns facing workers included exploitation, delays in paying wages, violence and work-related safety issues and fatalities.
In one of those most malignant of ironies, Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world for its Qatari citizenship population of 300,000 (total population of 1.9 million)
Similarly, across the border in Saudi Arabia, the Guardian in January 2013, noted that 45 foreign maids faced beheading by the State executioner . The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee of Experts on the Application of (Labour Rights) Conventions noted in 2012 that in Saudi Arabia the vulnerable situation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers who are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Code, who are often confronted with employment policies such as the visa “sponsorship” system and subjected to abusive employer practices such as the retention of passports, non-payment of wages, deprivation of liberty and physical and sexual abuse which cause their employment to be transformed into situations that could amount to forced labour.
The Himalayan Times in July 2012 stated that up to 3,000 migrant workers from Nepal alone had died in Saudi Arabia since 2000.
However as Migrant Rights notes, the abuse of workers is not limited to Qatar or Saudi Arabia, abuse is epidemic and systemic in the middle east and beyond.
As I have noted in a previous blog , “We are all Immigrants”, none of us have any rights to this piece of land we currently plant our feet on. We are simply travelers, as were our ancestors before us. And to be fully human , we must welcome those new travelers amongst us too. And yet we continue to play this foolish and deadly game of “us’ and the “others”.
French attitudes towards the Roma are also indicative of the mindless attitude of those in power towards those who believe that simply because they and their ancestors happen to have lived in a geographically bounded state territory for some time, they are entitled to certain privileges, and those who are recent comers are not. The brutal and barbarous attitude by many in Australia towards the “boat people” from Asian countries, is a supreme example of this vicious mind-set.
The concept of “citizenship” is a useful mirage, a fiction created by states to marginalize some populations.
In reality any person who lives under the jurisdiction of a state geographic entity needs to be protected by its laws; whether they be occupiers of the lands for many generations, recent migrants, asylum seekers, or migrant workers.
As As’ad AbuKhalil, aka the Angry Arab states, it is the ignorance of racsim that drives these brutal policies and systems of exploitation and terror.