Qatar ‘Dismantles’ Kafala Employment System That Critics Say Allowed Abuse of Migrant Workers

Encouraging but will see how implementation works. The Gulf States were built on this abusive system:

New labor rules in the energy-rich nation of Qatar “effectively dismantles” the country’s long-criticized “kafala” employment system, a U.N. labor body said Sunday.

The International Labor Organization said as of now, migrant workers can change jobs before the end of their contracts without obtaining the permission of their current employers.

Qatar also has adopted a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) for workers, which will take effect some six months after the law is published in the country’s official gazette, the ILO said. The minimum wage rule requires employers to pay allowances for housing and food as well if they don’t provide those for their workers.

Amnesty International praised the move as “an encouraging sign that Qatar may finally be heading in the right direction,” although employers still can file criminal charges against “absconding” employees, meaning those who left their jobs without permission.

“We call on Qatar to go further with these reforms, including removing the charge of absconding, to make sure that the rights of all workers are fully protected,” Amnesty official Steve Cockburn said in a statement.

Qatar, whose citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest per-capita incomes due to its natural gas reserves, partially ended the “kafala” system in 2018. That system ties workers to their employers, who had say over whether they could leave their jobs or even the country.

Qatar is being transformed by a building boom fueled by its vast oil and natural gas wealth. Like other energy-rich Gulf nations with relatively small local populations, Qatar relies on well over a million guest workers, many of them drawn from South Asian nations including India and Nepal. Rights activists long have criticized the “kafala” system as allowing abuses of those foreign workers.

This comes as Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the Arabian Peninsula nation. Having the winning bid for the soccer tournament brought renewed attention to laborers’ rights in Qatar.

Meanwhile Sunday, the United Arab Emirates announced it now requires private employers to grant new fathers five paid days off after the birth of a child.

Source: Qatar ‘Dismantles’ Kafala Employment System That Critics Say Allowed Abuse of Migrant Workers

Inside the $100 Million Scheme to Send the Middle East’s Most Unwanted People to Africa | VICE News

More on how the Gulf states use citizenship policy:

El-Baghdadi’s experience isn’t new or uncommon for Middle East’s large and rapidly growing community of exiles and refugees. Palestinians have been expelled in large numbers from both Jordan and Kuwait in the past when they’ve rubbed those countries’ rulers the wrong way.

What is new, however, is the way the Gulf States, intolerant even of critical tweets, are now punishing their own citizens by rendering them stateless. This, el-Baghdadi says, is part of a new, harsher interpretation of the social contract among the region’s oil and gas rich monarchies. “Being a citizen or a ‘local’ can potentially make you a lifelong recipient of government largess,” he says. In return for a cradle-to-grave welfare system “you just need to be completely apolitical and quiet.” Rocking the boat has become an increasingly risky business.

Since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, three of the Gulf states have revoked the citizenships of hundreds of people, the majority of them advocates for political reform or democratization. Bahrain has revoked the citizenship of 159 people since 2012; Kuwait made about 100 of its citizens non-Kuwaitis with the stroke of a pen in 2014 and 2015. The UAE stripped seven of its citizens of their nationality in 2011; in July 2014, the regional Al Sharq newspaper claimed that hundreds more had been secretly rendered stateless. Amnesty International has independently made a similar claim — that Emerati authorities planned to revoke the citizenship of “scores” of nationals.

Abu Dhabi. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2014, Oman passed a law allowing the government to arbitrarily revoke the citizenship of anyone working “against the interests” of the state, and Bahrain passed similar legislation allowing the state to strip the citizenship of anyone who failed “the duty of loyalty.” Saudi officials have publicly mulled following suit.

This January, Kuwaiti authorities arrested Saad al-Ajmi, the onetime director of the Kuwait office of the Saudi Arabian television channel Al-Arabiya, as he was about to board a flight to Saudi Arabia with his family. His arrest — for skipping out on a short jail sentence that he says he was not aware of — surprised many in Kuwait who knew al-Ajmi as the well-regarded spokesman for the Popular Action Bloc, a parliamentary coalition that is vocally critical of the government appointed directly by the Emir of Kuwait. Surprise turned to shock when, three months later, al-Ajmi was stripped of Kuwaiti citizenship and deported from the country.

When the head of a household loses citizenship in Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE, their families are often also stripped of their citizenship, creating a multiplier effect: Hundreds of people may have ultimately lost their status as Kuwaiti citizens due to the purge of 2014, according to human rights researchers tracking their cases, while more than 1,000 Bahrainis may have been plunged into the administrative void. These are people who learn that they and their loved ones have gone from being citizens of some of the world’s wealthiest countries — and most comprehensive welfare states — to being outcasts and exiles without a home.

Source: Inside the $100 Million Scheme to Send the Middle East’s Most Unwanted People to Africa | VICE News

The persistence of history | Islam and Slavery – The Economist

Good and needed piece:

But while IS’s embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other “slave-like” conditions prevalent across the region. IS’s targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labour for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not. From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.

Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame. Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but—according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salifi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi—he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition. Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief’s daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi—enslavement to God, not man.

Other scholars insist, however, that IS’s treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. “They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages,” says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, “what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid.” The Prophet’s calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.

… No labour practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system “facilitates slavery”, says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live. The Gulf’s 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labour laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer’s roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.

Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.

….Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait’s parliament granted domestic servants labour rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing. And earlier this year Mauritania’s government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicise a fatwa by the country’s leading clerics declaring: “Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law.” Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait’s emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.

Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.

Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant labourers building Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and Louvre museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.

Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labour? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants’ own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities. One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region’s persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.

The persistence of history | The Economist.