Slavery in the Gulf States

Kafala sponsorship, is an employment framework in the Gulf States – as well as Lebanon and Jordan, that requires sponsorship from a national for migrant workers to be employed and reside in the country. This system has created systemic abuse as employers are able to exploit and abuse workers with little recourse, leading many to argue that the Kafala system facilitates exploitative and slave labour. The Kafala system is increasingly under scrutiny due to the horror stories of sexual abuse, forced labour, and slave-like conditions. Employers have been known to withhold payments, restrict movement, confiscate mobile phones, passports and other personal documents, and engage in physical, psychological, and sexual violence. (Human Trafficking Search, 2019). Under the Kafala system, domestic workers are brought into the country by agencies and then officially registered with the government, while potential employers pay the agency some fees and become the official sponsor of the domestic worker. Under the system, the domestic worker cannot change or quit their job, nor leave the country without the sponsor’s permission. Many migrants are left with only two choices - either endure unfair working conditions, or attempt to escape. Those who escape are considered illegal. They are not entitled to any back pay and can be fined, indefinitely detained and deported. Migrants who cannot afford to pay for their ticket home, as well as migrants otherwise abandoned by their sponsors, can be stranded for years. (Migrants Rights, 2019). 

These conditions have led to an alarming rate of deaths of migrant domestic workers through suicide and botched escape attempts. (Independent, 2019) .Despite the Kafala system reforms in countries like Kuwait, they still fail to protect the domestic workers, with the rising use of technology, such as the use of 4SALE, Haraj and Instagram apps that are enabling employers to sell sponsorship of the domestic workers to other employers for a profit. This bypasses the agencies and create unregulated black markets that leave women more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. (BBC Africa, 2019)

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