Beneath Modern Sheen Of Gulf States Is Slave Labor

The awe-inspiring skyscrapers and buildings that litter the region have been described as being “stained by the blood of migrant workers.” This subjugation of laborers lines corporate coffers while putting the lives of migrant workers at risk.

Though many believe slavery is a thing of the past, it is very much alive in the regimes of the Persian Gulf.

The migrant laborers of the Persian Gulf truly travel from one world to another in order to provide for their relatives living back home. The data on the migrant laborer population in the Middle East is staggering, with migrant workers making up over 95 percent of the region’s workforce. There are estimated to be around 32 million migrants working in the Gulf.

However, conditions for the workers are not ideal. It is estimated that 600,000 of these migrants are the victims of forced labor. The abuse workers face begins as soon as they arrive in their host countries thanks to the kafala system, which essentially works as a sponsorship labor program.

In Gulf states, for example, migrant workers have almost no control over their residency status. And if their sponsor accuses them of absconding from work, they are stuck inside a system that does not recognize their rights. If a worker leaves a job without permission from their sponsor, they can have their visa revoked and even end up detained or deported.

This exploitative system turns laborers into blackmail victims. And if that wasn’t enough, the physical and psychological abuse these workers face is even more horrific.

Between 2013 and 2015, Saudi Arabia cracked down on nearly 500,000 of the 2 million undocumented workers in the country, detaining and then deporting them in the thousands, but not before keeping them in inhumane conditions and abusing them. These conditions of abuse have helped build the very luxurious lifestyles many in the region enjoy.

In the United Arab Emirates, female migrant domestic workers are sometimes forced to work 21 hours a day, as well as denied pay and food, confined indoors, beaten or having their passports confiscated to prevent them from escaping. This is a common tactic seen across the Middle East when it comes to the way employers deal with migrant workers. Though exact numbers aren’t known, migrant women report being raped by their sponsors.

Though many believe slavery is a thing of the past, it is very much alive in the regimes of the Persian Gulf.


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