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Migrant Labour in the Middle East

migrant workers lebanon protest lack of rights
Migrant workers and activists walk through Beirut in protest over the lack of basic rights and laws to protect them, Beirut, Lebanon, 29 April 2012. Photo George Haddad/Demotix/Corbis

The six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been employing armies of construction labourers, mainly from Asia—India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal—to build the huge projects that these countries are so well known for and that are used to build them an image of modern, progressive nations. Gulf states—particularly the UAE and Qatar—have been able to complete high-profile infrastructure and commercial projects such as Burj Khalifa in Dubai (10,000 to 12,000 labourers worked on the tower), stadiums for the World Cup 2020 in Qatar, and prestigious university and museum facilities on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

In any of those countries, migrant workers constitute the majority of the working population in construction, retail, industry, and domestic work. In contrast, the national populations of the Gulf countries often prefer (guaranteed) government jobs that generally provide higher earnings and more holidays.

But also other (oil-importing) countries in the region, such as Lebanon and Israel, attract migrant labourers who do the work nationals are not accustomed or willing to do.

Further Reading

Despite attempts at reform, with the restrictive sponsorship system still in place and inadequate enforcement of the law, migrant workers in the Gulf are still vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. This, in turn, damages the moder...
Despite labour reforms in recent years, migrant workers in the UAE continue to be subjected to abuse that amounts to forced labour, while complaints of inadequate housing, non-payment of wages, and deportation persist.
One domestic worker dies every week in Lebanon from unnatural causes such as suicide, failed escape or murder, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2008. ‘Interviews with embassy officials and friends o...
Some small legal steps have been taken by some of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These countries have agreed on standard legislation to protect domestic migrant workers, but the rights this legislation gives th...
Since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the country’s labour practices have come under greater scrutiny, prompting the Arab state to work with the ILO towards reform. In addition to ending kafala, it has also in...

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