Human Trafficking in Jordan
On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament approved a draft law to make amendments to the nation’s Anti-Human-Trafficking Law. The newly adjusted law aims to reduce human trafficking in Jordan by increasing the penalties for human traffickers, while also providing further support to victims and persons these crimes affect. Additionally, the Lower House established a special fund that compensates trafficking victims for the harm they received. According to Jordan’s Minister of State, Mahmoud Kharabsheh, “the draft law protects young beggars who are exploited and protects people from bonded labor.”

The Situation

This initiative aptly responds to the 2020 U.S. Trafficking in Person’s Report on Jordan, which declared that the country did not meet the requirements for the elimination of trafficking. The report designated Jordan as a Tier 2 country, meaning that although the country has not met the standards for reducing human trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so.

In 2020, the Jordanian government made several efforts to prevent human trafficking, including distributing relevant cautionary information to all foreign migrant workers. However, the in Person’s report also mentioned that the government did not make any efforts to decrease commercial sex acts and the prostitution of minors. For this reason among others, it is evident from the 2020 report that Jordan’s government still has a long way to go in implementing anti-human-trafficking legislation. The country’s new Anti-Human-Trafficking Law passed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, is a timely step in the right direction.

Trafficking Victims in Jordan

The victims of human trafficking in Jordan are primarily migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Egypt and Syria. Foreign migrant workers are the most vulnerable to human trafficking due to a variety of reasons. Oftentimes these people have left their home country to escape dangerous conditions or abuse, or in the hope of earning more money. Syrian refugees in Jordan are a prominent example of a vulnerable population not only in search of safe living conditions but requiring jobs as well. Because many of Jordan’s foreign workers are undocumented, their illegal status makes them unlikely to complain about their employers or leave in fear of experiencing deportation. The many disadvantages that foreign migrant workers in Jordan face make them especially vulnerable to human trafficking.

Although it is difficult to quantify human trafficking in Jordan, some relevant statistics exist that help to illustrate the scope of the issue. A study that the Jordanian Women’s Union in 2020 published found that “the number of human trafficking cases in Jordan that the police had dealt with between 2009 and 2019 was 224.” Of these cases, “forced domestic labor topped the figures with 55.8 percent… while sexual exploitation cases represented 6.3 percent, followed by exploitation of prostitution cases with 5.8 percent.” Considering that 800,000 undocumented foreign workers had employment in Jordan in 2016 alone, the number of human trafficking cases that the police dealt with is disproportionately small.

In conjunction with the study’s findings, Muhannad Dweikat, one of the experts who prepared the JWU’s study, emphasized the need for more anti-trafficking legislation in Jordan. He remarked, “Based on the figures… it is important to create a national mechanism for human trafficking cases, which would be considered as a reliable reference when dealing with such cases.”

Looking Ahead

Human trafficking in Jordan is a big problem that requires more national attention in order for the country to move out of the Tier 2 Watch list. The majority of human trafficking victims in Jordan are foreign migrant workers, however, an upwards trend has taken place seeing that, “in 2019, the government identified nine trafficking victims, which represented a significant decrease from the 40 identified victims in 2018.” This data, along with the solidification of new anti-human trafficking legislation in Jordan, illustrates that the humanitarian crisis has gained more prominence within the country. Jordan is taking strides to end human trafficking, and its recent successes prove it.

– Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Qatar
The U.N. defines human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” Human trafficking in Qatar is a longstanding concern among international nonprofit organizations and human rights groups. The wealthy Gulf State’s ongoing campaign to bolster its soft power on the world stage and brand its capital Doha as a financial and investment hub comparable to its UAE neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi has gathered considerable momentum in recent years. The country is using large-scale construction projects such as an extravagant airport and lavish tourist attractions to cement the city’s position as an oasis of luxury and opulence. However, the dark cloud cast over how exactly the small but ambitious kingdom is achieving these construction feats remains a critical question mark.

The crown jewel of the Al Thani monarchy’s publicity campaign is undoubtedly the 2022 Qatar World Cup, which the country attained under questionable circumstances in a 2010 bid involving a high-profile bribery scandal and a multi-billion dollar proposal to secure the rights to host the upcoming soccer tournament. With the desert state’s day in the sun on the horizon, the kingdom began ramping up construction to prepare stadiums and indeed the city of Doha itself for its month in the spotlight of international attention.

Why Import Labor?

For a country like Qatar, one of the smallest sovereign states in the world covering an area roughly the size of Connecticut, such a large-scale undertaking presents one very crucial problem – labor. This is where human trafficking and labor exploitation are rearing their ugly heads time and time again in the development of the Gulf States. The ruling family and sponsors of Qatar’s development projects are seeking to meet the country’s manual labor needs by employing millions of vulnerable men and women from countries like India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Sudan seeking work abroad to send remittances back to their families. Today, of the 2.6 million people currently living in Qatar, 2.3 million are migrant workers from abroad working primarily in the domestic and construction sectors.

Abuse and Exploitation

Unscrupulous, predatory and loan-sharking recruiters in laborers’ home countries often work closely with contractors in Qatar to lure workers to the peninsula for extended periods of time under false pretenses. Upon arrival in the country, migrants are at the mercy of Qatar’s Kafala system of laws that govern the relationships between migrants, their employers and the Qatari state, placing economic migrants in a dangerous position of dependency. Under this structure of rules, the migrants’ visa and work permit status ties to a sponsor or employer which makes it illegal for workers to leave their employer or indeed the country itself without the employer’s official permission, creating a situation that is ripe for economic bondage and human trafficking in Qatar.

According to the U.S. State Department, workers suffer abuses such as:

  • Withheld Wages and Delayed Payment
  • Passport Confiscation
  • Abhorrent Company-Sponsored Living Conditions
  • Excessive Hours
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Hazardous Working Conditions
  • Debt Bondage
  • Prostitution
  • The Threat of Serious Physical Harm

Progress and Promises

There is hope, though. Facing mounting international pressure from democratic governments and NGOs such as the United Nations and Amnesty International, the Qatari government is making “significant promises of reform ahead of the 2022 World Cup” according to Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy director of global issues. Such reforms include the establishment of a workers support and insurance fund, the announcement of a new minimum wage, dissolution of the laws necessitating employer permission for workers to leave the employer or the country, and a signed commitment to the International Labour Organization (ILO) to combat the brutal exploitation of workers and human trafficking in Qatar.

The Good News

Although the reforms on paper still lack the unwavering enforcement that is necessary to implement the new laws to their fullest extent, their creation signals a willingness of the Qatari government to meet certain labor standards ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which at this time should proceed as scheduled. The good news is that the country’s need to build and preserve its reputation at the center of its soft power initiatives allows for a motivated international community to demand immediate reforms and changes in labor laws and policies. In the context of growing calls to boycott the tournament if it does not meet standards and increasing international attention as the tournament nears, the Qatari government is likely to respond to sustained pressure if others apply it with strength and in numbers.

– Cem Gokhan
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Human Trafficking in Ethiopia
The capture and trade of human beings for the sole purpose of sex, domestic servitude and/or forced labor is hardly anything new. It has had various names in the past, with one of the most notable being “enslavement.” While human trafficking has gained attention from governments and organizations worldwide, human trafficking in Ethiopia is prevalent and affects its residents.

Those Targeted

For years, migrants have been the main victims of human trafficking in Ethiopia. Another potential, vulnerable percentage of victims of human trafficking in Ethiopia are children of poor, pastoral backgrounds. This type of background ensures that the child would be susceptible to the promises of a better life; as a result, traffickers frequently lure these children to sell them into harsher, more cruel conditions. In 2018, both regional and federal governments intercepted 10,100 children and adults who had the intent of migrating for work, whereas they intercepted 27,877 men and women of transnational trafficking in 2019, many of them intending to leave Ethiopia for domestic work overseas. Meanwhile, in January 2020, reports determined that 62 potential child victims existed.

In 2018 and 2019, many trafficking cases involved the illegal smuggling of migrants. Migrants are more prone to experiencing trafficking because they may migrate illegally or through irregular migration, also known as “human smuggling.”

The Ethiopian Government’s Efforts

In 2020, the Ethiopian government made strides against human trafficking, despite it not meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in its region according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Person’s report. With the realization that there is a need for a proportional focus on sex trafficking internally and labor trafficking transnationally, Ethiopia put two separate prosecution datasets into place. This resulted in a system to keep track of whether a crime is an internal or transnational crime.

According to the Trafficking in Person’s report, government officials investigated and convicted transnational traffickers and, for the first time in 20 years, reported holding accountable traffickers by strict penalties for victims they exploited in forced labor or sex trafficking within the country. Penalties for traffickers caught involve prosecution and conviction by authorities.

Though inadequacy might still be prominent with the Ethiopian government involving the overall scale of the trafficking issue, it has done better with taking care of victims by jointly operating migration response centers in Afar and Metema, and operating child protection units in several major cities.

The United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

In 2020, the UNODC has decided to support Ethiopia in its efforts to end trafficking. According to an article from the United Nations, the UNODC has actively contributed to developing regulations by stiffening penalties for trafficking and smuggling for the country’s new Proclamation on countering Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants 1178/2000.

The UNODC regional project Enhancing Effective and Victim-Centred Criminal Justice Responses to Trafficking in Persons in Eastern Africa involves a Drafting and Consultation Workshop to help offer support. According to the same article from the United Nations, the UNODC organized the workshop that local officials hosted, bringing together expert prosecutors from the National Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants Task Force Secretariat, the Legal Studies, Drafting and dissemination Directorate, representatives from the Ministry of Labour and UNODC experts.

Additional Aid

The nongovernmental organization called Hope for Children has headquarters in Perth, Western Australia. Jacqui Gilmour founded the organization in 2004 as an anti-human trafficking program with the goal of helping and providing opportunities to women and children in Ethiopia. According to its website, self-help groups or collective savings and loans are key to this strategy. It also provides quality vocational skills training so that vulnerable women can gain access to employment opportunities in the Ethiopian workforce.

The head of this program is an educator at AGAR Ethiopia, a charitable society focused on the rescue and rehabilitation of traumatized people in Ethiopia. Agar means “supporter” in Amharic. Although no percentage of how many this program has helped is available, Hope for Children is adamant about raising awareness about the vulnerability of migrant workers and the physical/psychological abuse they might face at the hands of their employers. Through other programs, Hope for Children has impacted impoverished families and aided in the education of children in Ethiopia.

With progress in ending human trafficking in Ethiopia through the support of the UNODC and Hope for Children, the Ethiopian government seems more determined than ever to provide the protection that its people deserve, most notably for those migrating in search of a brighter future across borders.

– Thomas Williams
Photo: Pixabay

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Japan
The U.S. Congress released a Trafficking In Persons Report (2020) concluding Japan’s federal response to human trafficking as insufficient. Though the report recognizes Japan’s reformed policies, tightened visa checks and installation of victim shelters, its government has a history of not taking measures to fully criminalize and eradicate human trafficking in Japan.

History of Human Trafficking in Japan

In the early 1980s, human trafficking in Japan was common. Without Japan’s government regulation or extensive protocol, traffickers targeted many social groups including women, international students, foreign laborers and entertainers.

The majority of human trafficking came from the entertainment industry, due to Japan’s lenient authorization of all foreigners applying for the “Entertainer” visa. Women from Thailand and the Philippines migrated to Japan in the 1990s through this specific label, though only 20% were actual singers and dancers.

With a large demand for sexual services, targeted women in the entertainment industry were mostly from red-light districts. Though these cases for human trafficking were prominent, Japan did not take federal action and instead, dismissed them as “foreign cases.”

In other cases, external human trafficking groups traded women into Japan from foreign countries. Given fraudulent passports and tied to the organizations by debt bondage, victims paid off their contracts through sexual labor in Japan.

Activism to Reduce Human Trafficking in Japan

Despite the ongoing rise of human trafficking in Japan, many Japanese activist groups began to form and take action, specifically large organizations such as the Japanese Network Against Trafficking in Persons (JNATIP), established in 2003, or Kyofukai, the Japan Christian Women’s Organization, established in 1886. These advocacy groups provided victims shelter and protection, responding and reacting to women and children who were victims of human trafficking. As non-government organizations took on what the state neglected, tension began to spread throughout the state and human trafficking in Japan began to catch national attention.

The Japanese government’s lack of regulation and foreigner neglect continued these trends from the 1980s to 2000s. In contrast to Japan’s circumstances, other countries began to adopt the UN’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in response to the globally rising cases. Starting in 2000, the U.S. Congress strongly encouraged and monitored this collective stance, releasing annual reports on the results and efficiency of anti-trafficking measures in each country.

In 2002, Japan agreed to implement the Protocol Against Human Trafficking, which revised immigration protocols and adopted measures to combat human trafficking in Japan. It also signed the Action Plan in 2004, which strengthened immigration processing, provided victims government protection and declared trafficking a federal crime against human rights. Despite its efforts, the U.S. marked Japan as Tier 2, a subcategory that states this country does not fully adhere to the TVPA’s standards.

A Setback in Reducing Human Trafficking

Today, Japan still remains at Tier 2 in 2020, though the U.S. briefly advanced Japan to Tier 1 in 2018-19. Although human trafficking measures and policies are still in place, several factors contribute to Japan’s setback.

For starters, Japan has introduced a steady flow of migrant workers that have led to labor exploitation and debt bondage. The country has steadily dismissed these as “foreign cases,” coincidentally turning to direct its human trafficking policies on domestic cases. This shift in the government’s focus has allowed the state to avert attention from the exploitation of foreign labor.

Japan has also allowed an alarming amount of international students through foreign study-abroad agencies under the “Kaigo” visa. Students under contract are able to work off tuition through legal work, though in some cases, must work against their will. The 2020 Trafficking Report that the U.S. released states that Japan’s foreign student population is more and more at risk for human trafficking due to dishonest work-study contracts in unskilled unmonitored labor sections. The cases of both international students and migrant workers have steadily increased, especially with Japan’s lenient immigration policy change in 2018.

Moving Forward

All things considered, Japan has disregarded the global effort to eradicate human trafficking cases. Despite the state’s continued indifference, non-governmental organizations continue to respond to victims, advocate for further policy changes and attempt to discontinue trends of exploitation in Japan. Though the cases of trafficking have gone down over the last two decades, the insufficient federal response to human trafficking still affects many social groups.

Today, non-governmental organizations continue to protect victims and advocate for better policies to combat human trafficking in Japan. The U.S. 2020 Trafficking In Persons report and labor exploitation stigma have uncovered Japan’s underwhelming policies and scrutinized the country for its lack of completion and insufficient response. The JNATIP remains a major resource group for human trafficking victims, promoting the enactment of laws for trafficking victims. The political fight against human trafficking in Japan continues.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Thailand
In Thailand, about 610,000 people are victims of modern-day slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, about one in 113 among its 69 million population was prey to human trafficking as of 2018. There are steps the Government of Thailand can take to end human trafficking in Thailand. While some have made progress in reducing the human trafficking trade, urgent government action is necessary to impact Thai citizens and migrant workers widely.

Challenges Eliminating Human Trafficking in Thailand

A big part of the country’s prevention efforts must involve the protection of migrants. Thailand’s population has about 4.9 million migrants – making up 10% of its workforce – according to the United Nations. Most individuals migrating to Thailand are from poorer neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, and are, therefore, more vulnerable to trafficking.

The country passed The Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers in March 2018, which requires employers to cover recruitment fees and transportation costs for migrant workers in Thailand. These transportation finances include the arrival and return home of employed migrant workers.

However, the country has not defined or enforced the regulations on these fees well. According to 2019’s annual Trafficking in Person’s Report from the U.S. Department of State, several recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay for their recruitment fees and transportation costs. Four of the “67 migrant worker recruitment agencies” that the government reviewed were still violating the law in 2018.

The Government of Thailand’s Efforts

Due to the rise in human trafficking in Thailand in recent years, the Government of Thailand is making significant efforts to meet the standards for eliminating human trafficking. Key strategies include more victim identification, as well as normalizing more anti-trafficking policies. Other important factors involve training officials in victim identification and using interview techniques that allow victims to have a safer environment to report to. The government also increased efforts to raise awareness of the issue, organizing campaigns through all forms of media – newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards and handouts – to alert the public about the seriousness of the issue.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) created hotlines for citizens to report human trafficking in Thailand anonymously where operators spoke 12 different languages. In 2018, the MSDHS prosecuted 63 cases from the 161 calls related to possible trafficking crimes.

The Government of Thailand has policies in place to protect victims of human trafficking. People identified as trafficking victims are viable to receive help from the Thailand government, which includes staying at a shelter and receiving compensation through a state fund. Victims also qualify for legal aid while awaiting trial to give evidence or returning home. In 2019, The Government of Thailand provided legal and social services to 12,857 migrant workers who were vulnerable or otherwise affected by human trafficking in Thailand.

The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project

Other programs work with the Government of Thailand to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project “works to decrease trafficking and better protect the rights of trafficked persons in Thailand by reducing demand for using trafficked labor and strengthening protection systems for survivors.” One of the key goals of the organization is finding and removing barriers in identifying victims of human trafficking, which it partners with the Government of Thailand to accomplish.

The International Labor Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is an NGO that works with countries on several workplace-related issues, including human trafficking in Thailand. Since its creation in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles, the organization has set out to set labor standards and create programs for all.

Over the past years, the ILO has joined forces with the European Union and the Government of Thailand through the Ship to Shore Rights Project to support the Thai seafood and fishing industries in complying with international labor standards, offering protection from illegal labor. According to its 2020 report, it has stepped up its work with the Project and has implemented an approach to address major gaps, including the improvement of representation for Thai workers.

In January 2019, the Royal Thai Government ratified the ILO Convention on Work in Fishing, which provides standards for recruitment and placement to work onboard a fishing vessel, as many people in Thailand undergo trafficking for the seafood industry.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to ratify the law, reflecting the organization’s belief that people can accomplish universal and lasting peace only if it is based on social justice. Though it may be easy to focus on the negative, it is important to note that steps are emerging to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. Thailand still requires improvements, but one should not ignore its efforts.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Indian Migrant Workers
As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it is revealing the country’s systematic inequalities as Indian migrant workers bear the brunt of the pandemic.

The Lockdown

India’s national lockdown began on March 25, 2020. It went into effect a mere four hours after the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, made the announcement. However, Modi’s order did not consider the impact it would have on migrant workers. As a result, millions of migrant workers were jobless and stranded in cities all across the country. Shareen Joshi, a professor at Georgetown University, spoke to The Borgen Project. Joshi described how the lockdown “appears to have been imposed to benefit India’s middle and upper classes in urban areas. It literally ‘forgot’ about 350 million migrant workers.”

Consequently, thousands of migrants had to make the dangerous journey home. With public transportation shut down, some walked hundreds of miles, often without proper protective gear or the ability to practice social distancing.

“The virus is basically systematically exposing inequalities and fault-lines in every country it seems to enter,” Joshi said.

The Pandemic Highlights Underlying Inequalities

Indian migrant workers are already a vulnerable population. They rarely belong to trade unions or work under contracts. Additionally, many migrants lack the bank accounts necessary to secure government benefits. Although the Indian government offers welfare for those below the poverty line, migrant workers often do not know how to access this relief.

Indian migrant workers were among the first to feel the economic consequences of the virus. An April 2020 report by the nonprofit organization Jan Sahas, titled Voices of the Invisible Citizens, stated that “90% laborers (approx.) have already lost their source of income” within just three weeks. This complete financial depletion left, “42% of labourers” with “no ration left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown.”

The virus has also aggravated discrimination against Indian migrant workers. Joshi stated that migrant workers represent their own “scheduled castes” within India’s caste system. Many consider migrant workers as possible carriers of the virus. Fearing infection, their communities shun them upon their return home.

Rebuilding the Economy and Addressing Inequities

As India begins to rebuild its economy, Joshi recommends “a bottom-up strategy, people-centric rather than money-centric.” This strategy would have the government invest in individual villages to create a trickle-up effect.

Moreover, this strategy would aid the Indian migrant workers. In March 2020, the president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, proposed that district collectors help migrants who cannot afford shelter and that the government provide transportation for migrants to get home. Joshi described a proposal to make ration cards portable. This would allow migrants to “access food in both the location they are registered and the area where they work.”

While this pandemic has brought unthinkable suffering to Indian migrant workers, it may also inspire a new fight for equality. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, believes the pandemic might provide “an opportunity to end communal bias and­­­ other discrimination in governance and restore the impartiality of state institutions.” This pandemic has shown, if nothing else, the need to address the inequalities that have plagued India.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Qatar
Ever since the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, migrant flows to the country have exploded. Since 2010, Qatar has sought to bring thousands of workers to its shores in order to assist in the construction of stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure necessary to facilitate the tournament. To meet this demand, migrants from all over the Persian Gulf region, we well as South Asia, have flooded into the country. Migrants hoped to escape dire straits in order to find a stable job and a stable income. In fact, 700,000 workers came from India alone. However, migrant poverty in Qatar has become a significant issue.

Migrants in Qatar

According to Human Rights Watch, the migrant labor force has reached over 2 million, making up approximately 95% of the labor force. However, despite being the second richest country in the world with a GDP per capita of $124,500 in 2017, a lack of labor rights has created widespread poverty in Qatar, especially among migrants.

The reason poverty persists among workers is the kafala sponsorship system. Migrants have to apply for visas from employers, often incurring costs through recruiters to do so. Even if workers do manage to pay enough to get access to a job, employers have broad controls over what workers can do. Employers often take passports from workers, preventing them from escaping brutal conditions. Additionally, some workers have gone with little to no pay. This has led to hundreds of thousands of people living in labor camps, where disease and poverty are rampant.

Solutions

In 2017 and 2018, Qatar’s government passed policies intended to reduce migrant poverty in Qatar. In October 2017, the government established a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers in the hopes of improving the conditions of laborers. One year later, in October 2018, Amnesty International reported that Qatar implemented a support and insurance fund in order to protect workers from lost wages.

However, Human Rights Watch reports that both of these reforms were implemented unevenly, and thus have not had much of an effect. Employers still have a lot of control over workers, and poor enforcement has meant that the kafala structure is still in place.

On August 30, 2020, Qatar announced two new reforms in order to rectify this issue. The first was an increase in the existing minimum wage. The law will take effect in January 2021, and also requires employers to pay workers a stipend for food and housing. The second was a law to allow workers to leave their jobs without having express permission from their employers. This mobility could allow workers to escape dangerous conditions and find better work.

Such reforms could even save lives, as even the lowest estimates indicate that at least 1,200 people have died working on World Cup stadiums due to harsh conditions. International watchdogs have applauded these reforms. Amnesty International argues that these small steps provide some hope that migrant poverty in Qatar, as well as worker exploitation, will soon be on the decline.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

Health and Human Rights of RefugeesOne of the most important factors in beating the coronavirus is ensuring that everybody has access to public health. According to The New Humanitarian, this has pushed numerous governments to double down on their efforts to protect the health and human rights of refugees, migrant workers and asylum seekers who may have not been able to afford access to these services pre-COVID.

In March as the worldwide outbreaks quadrupled and human rights organizations around the world urged governments the dangers the coronavirus would impose on refugees and asylum seekers. The World Health Organization, the UNHCR and several other organizations put out a joint press release that pressured governments to release migrants and undocumented individuals from immigration detention centers as well as include them in public health relief efforts. Here are three countries that have prioritized protecting the health and human rights of refugees during COVID-19. They show that these policies could be sustained even beyond the crisis.

Countries Protecting the Health and Human Rights of Refugees During COVID-19

  1. Italy: Italy has one of the highest infection rates with 238,159 confirmed cases and 34,514 deaths. Italy’s fields have also attracted migrant workers from Eastern Europe. On May 13, the Italian government passed an amnesty law allowing around 200,000 migrant workers and undocumented refugees to apply for healthcare and 6-month legal residency permits. The downside of this new step is that the bill only applies to agricultural workers, leaving out many of the workers in the informal sector who perform labor in construction or food services.
  2. Portugal: Migrants and asylum seekers in Portugal with applications that are still in process are now being granted early access to public services that include welfare, rental contracts, bank accounts and national health service. Claudia Veloso, the spokesperson for Portugal’s chapter of the Ministry of International Affairs, told Reuters that “people should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not been processed yet.”
  3. Brazil: Brazil has the highest rate of outbreaks second to the United States, and President Jair Bolsonaro has continuously dismissed the severity of the virus and failed to respond effectively to outbreaks. So, it has fallen to local community organizations, donors and local authorities to enforce these regulations and double down on the effort to get everybody treated. The Paraisópolis community group started running a quarantine center in partnership with health workers, NGOs and medical centers. The center has around 240 volunteers monitoring the health of at least 50 families at a time. It acquired sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment through crowdfunding. The group is providing food and medical aid to undocumented migrants.

Amnesty International stated that in order to fix the refugee crisis “the world urgently needs a new, global plan based on genuine international cooperation and a meaningful and fair sharing of responsibilities.” Policy experts are hopeful that these new policies will help governments to consider new possibilities for a more humane approach to helping displaced migrants and asylum seekers in the future. The health and human rights of refugees need to be protected.

Isabel Corp
Photo: Flickr

India's WorkforceOn March 24, 2020, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown — giving India’s workforce of 1.3 billion people just four hours to prepare. The goal of this lockdown was to minimize the spread of COVID-19. However, there have been three major problems with this lockdown:

  1. Migrant workers returning home
  2. Equal access to resources
  3. Coordination

Migrant Workers

During the lockdown, all stores, factories and businesses shut down. For many migrant workers, this was problematic since it is their employers who provide them with food and shelter. To get home, many of these people used public transportation every week — which was also shut down. Under these circumstances, tens of thousands of migrant workers became stranded with no means of transportation to return home — except on foot. Consequently, workers and families walk hundreds of kilometers in the streets, close to one another, to arrive home. Moreover, these workers have limited access to health products and resources. Many of these people live on daily income and without these funds, they must rely on the government for financial support.

Access to Resources

This sheds light on the second problem, the distribution of resources. Due to the lockdown, India’s economy could drop by nearly 8%. This has prompted the government to invest in a $23 billion relief package to help sustain India’s poor and stimulate the economy.

But does this provide people with enough? Does this provide for everyone? Dr. Sanjay Kumar, an activist, professor and leader in the field of urban development, describes the situation as “very related with social security systems.” He describes a lack of equal connection between people and resources, explaining that “public distribution is not connected.” This is about the lack of equal distribution of goods, not the lack of goods in the first place. Since more than 80% of India’s workforce works within the informal sector and all inessential jobs have been shut down, these people are left jobless. They need resources but find them difficult to obtain because they can no longer access them through their jobs.

Coordination

Thirdly, there has been a lack of coordination by the government while implementing this lockdown. There was much confusion among policemen during the lockdown. This resulted in multiple cases of police brutality against those in India’s workforce simply trying to return home. Additionally, there is much confusion and a lack of education regarding the virus. India’s workforce is not adequately educated on social distancing — a practice that is very important for the containment of the virus. “There is a gap between planning, announcement and implementation… due to this gap, people are suffering,” Dr. Kumar said. Due to this disorganization, Prime Minister Modi has publicly apologized for the poor execution of this lockdown.

Two further important issues remain. That of healthcare funding, which is very low and the high amount of immunocompromised citizens with respiratory diseases. India currently has 2.09 million people confirmed to have the new coronavirus. Bearing in mind the limited ability to test because of poor healthcare funding, this is a great concern. The rise in cases has shown to be fairly rapid. Concerned, global citizens can assist India and its informal workforce through advocation. E.g., advocating for the creation of a social security net, donating to hospitals, donating to families and advocating for the government to invest in India’s healthcare system. Through this type of action, India’s workforce may see a much needed, positive turn around.

Hope Arpa Chow
Photo: Google Images