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Poverty in Qatar

The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics disclosed on June 6, 2016 that 1.4 million people, nearly 60% of Qatar’s population, live in what the Qatari government officially labels as “labor camps.”

Migrants from poorer countries have moved to Qatar in recent years to develop its infrastructure for tourism projects, including preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

However, migrant workers continue to live a life of poverty in Qatar, with many human rights groups like Amnesty International condemning Qatar for providing “squalid and cramped accommodation” for its very large migrant workforce.

According to Amnesty International, migrant workers are also not paid for several months at a time, which puts significant emotional and financial pressures on workers already burdened with heavy debts.

Recently, 13 people died in a fire that broke out in a labor camp for migrants working on a waterfront tourism project in southwest Qatar. The fire highlights how Qatar has treated migrant workers by providing poor living conditions for them.

The government responded to criticism by building new housing complexes for workers, including a city south of Doha. This new city, known as “Labour City,” will include cinemas, shops and a cricket stadium for migrant workers.

Outside of the government, various organizations have also assisted migrant workers to overcome their life of poverty in Qatar. One such organization is Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), a member of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

On June 8, ROTA launched its Ramadan Project 2016, bringing together over 100 local volunteers to pack and distribute bulk groceries to more than 200 families in need across Qatar.

ROTA volunteers packaged food parcels containing items such as flour, cooking oil, milk powder and lentils that were later distributed before the start of Ramadan. The program also provided beneficiary families with shopping vouchers to purchase other products.

ROTA volunteers, numbering 300, partook in several community service activities set to take place over the month, including the installation of computer labs for migrants working on construction projects.

Despite living a life of poverty in Qatar, migrant workers are slowly overcoming hardships through additional assistance by the government and various organizations.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Flickr

WorldRemitThe expanding remittance market is one indicator of our increasingly globalized world, and with it comes the need for easy and convenient overseas money transfers.

Ismail Ahmed experienced this necessity firsthand. While studying in London, Ahmed faced a time-consuming process each time he needed to send money to family in his native Somalia. To facilitate this process, he founded WorldRemit.

“WorldRemit,” Ahmed explains, “is an online service that lets people send money to friends and family living abroad, using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.”

According to his website, money transfers that would have taken hours reduces to three simple stages: selecting a country, adding recipient details, and sending the money. Senders and recipients are notified by email or SMS when a transfer has been received.

Money can be sent to bank accounts or for cash pick-up as well as through Mobile Money service and mobile airtime top-up.

According to Debbi McCullough from The Guardian, the increased rate of global migration places a higher demand on more rapid, cost-efficient transfer services like WorldRemit.

Globally, the World Bank estimates that one in seven people are either an international or internal migrant. Remittance flows to developing countries are projected to increase 8.4 percent in 2016 (reaching up to $516 billion in total).

Despite these increases, remittance fees in some countries still remain as high as 29 percent. Furthermore, the process of “[traveling] to an agent location, [standing] in line, [filling] out forms” and more creates a sense of unnecessary tedium, says McCullough.

While online transactions raise the question of security, Ahmed assures that “[sending] money through WorldRemit is extremely safe.” Partner companies are held up to high security and data protection standards.

Though most of its main offices are based in London, WorldRemit continues to expand. In early 2015, it opened up its first U.S. office in Denver, Colorado.

For those who need to send money, WorldRemit is currently available for use in 50 countries. Recipients live in up to 120 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America and South America.

Jocelyn Lim

Sources: Aldo Svaldi, Debbi McCullough, WorldRemit, The World Bank
Photo: Google Images

chinese_migrant_workers
Every year, around the Chinese New Year, China experiences the world’s largest human migration. About 700 million people gather at boat landings, train stations and airports to return home; during this holiday period, 2,265 trains per day will carry this plethora of people across the country.

A majority of these travelers are in fact migrant workers who are returning home after working in China’s crowded but economically thriving cities. For many of these laborers, this will be their only visit home before they have to return to their place of employment for the rest of the year.

Traditionally, life for these millions of migratory workers has not been easy. While many leave their rural hometowns for greater economic opportunities in China’s booming metropolises, they often find more than they bargain for.

A study conducted by Cheng Yu at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou surveyed the mental health of 807 migrant workers from Shenzhen and also saw Cheng discussing personal experiences with 60 of them. The study found that 58.8 percent of participants suffered from depression. Another 17 percent experienced anxiety, while around 4.6 percent had considered suicide.

The issue of mental health among Chinese migrant workers became widely apparent in 2010 after a series of suicides at a Foxconn manufacturing facility in Shenzhen. The company had assembled components for Apple products.

For migrant workers who must transition from rural life to city living without the support of their families, the chance of developing mental illnesses is much greater. They also face greater inequality through China’s hukou system.

The hukou essentially serves as a domestic passport which distinguishes between those of rural backgrounds and urban backgrounds. Unfortunately, migrant workers have to pay more for social services such as healthcare and education, which they could expect for little expense in their rural hometowns. They will frequently experience wage disparities and discrimination.

In 2008, a study found that urban workers earned around 1,000 yuan per month, while their migrant counterparts earned only 850 yuan. Most were expected to work around 11 hours per day for 26 days a month. Another study found that migrant laborers worked 50 percent more hours than their urban counterparts, yet in turn received 60 percent less in pay.

In order to improve their working conditions, laborers have recently taken to the streets in protest. In 2011 the country experienced 185 labor protests and things have only escalated since then: last year, 1,300 labor protests took place.

Even though the Chinese government guarantees workers’ rights under a 1995 labor agreement, workers must seek approval for strikes through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a government entity. If they don’t coordinate through the federation, they can face arrest.

Yet these arrests are usually only based on disorderly conduct and not for the actual strikes themselves. Wu Gaijin, a worker representative from Shenzhen, was detained for an entire year without a conviction. The government charged him with disrupting traffic.

However, life for laborers has been gradually improving. China has recently worked towards loosening restrictions on the hukou system in an attempt to lessen the disparity between urban and rural workers. Furthermore, individuals such as Cheng have advocated for required mental health testing at work facilities and for providing employees with a mental health support line to mitigate suicides and depression.

As China grows larger and its cities expand, changes such as these will have to be made in order to make its labor force sustainable and healthy.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN 1, CNN 2, ILO, NPR, PBS
Photo: CNN

Migrant Workers in Shanghai
Standing on a bustling street in Shanghai, it is hard to ignore the feeling of constant movement and intensity. The mantra seems to be: keep moving and keep progressing. And at both the individual and state level there is an insatiable desire to be the best.

But at what price? The pace of development in China is incredibly impressive and yet, despite the new and efficient subways, trains, and buildings, a contrast of wealth still exists.

As a whole, China has been on the forefront of poverty reduction in the last couple of decades, raising nearly 300 million people out of poverty. However, it is not hard to find the instances of impoverishment that still exist even in some of the most developed cities, like Shanghai.

The population of Shanghai in 2013 was 23.9 million, making it the largest and most populous city proper in the entire world.  Furthermore, it has experienced double digit growth nearly every year since 1992, falling below double digits only temporarily during the 2008-2009 recession.

According to the 2010 census, more than 39 percent of Shanghai’s residents are migrant workers who have flocked to the city from the nearby provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Henan seeking better economic opportunities. These migrant workers in Shanghai, who have made up the largest percentage of the city’s growth in the past few years, often live in the poorest conditions.

As development has increased in China, upwards of 250 million people have left the countryside for the east coast in the hopes of finding more lucrative work. Migrant laborers often work in labor, construction, factories as well as the service sector. Their wages tend to be lower than those of Shanghai residents and their living conditions incredibly poor. Just down the street from the newest high apartments and office buildings, it is not unusual to see old neighborhoods crowded with huts full of migrant laborers.

It’s important to note that poverty for migrant laborers is relative. In China, poverty and inequality differ dramatically in different parts of the country. Many laborers, who migrate to Shanghai for work, come from even poorer rural villages. While their wages are low, the income is often still better than what could be made back home.

Despite this, without a Shanghai hukou, a registration card that is used to classify where individuals are from, migrants are unable to live in subsidized housing, access basic health care and unemployment benefits, or enroll their children in local schools.

Marginalized and discriminated against, the poorest of Shanghai struggle to find social acceptance as well as economic security in their new lives. Yet, these migrant workers are the drivers of China’s tremendous economic growth. If this growth continues, the people of Shanghai will have to find a way to better accommodate their ever-evolving workforce. One of the biggest obstacles Shanghai faces is housing. Real estate prices are extremely high, leaving many people with low wages unable to purchase or rent homes.

Addressing this issue, as well as reforming the hukou system to allow for migrant workers to access health, education and other public services, will help further reduce the poverty and inequality that persists in Shanghai and China as a whole. It is easy to let the gleaming towers and trendy streets distract from the reality that most of Shanghai’s current population is still very much struggling to move beyond impoverishment.

Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Poverties, China Perspectives, World Population Review, Nyuzai Shanghai, WSWS
Photo: The Globe and Mail

Adopt-A-Camp
Raising a family of 53,000 can’t be easy, but someone has to do it. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE,) the woman who does so is Saher Shaikh, the head of the Dubai-based charity Adopt-A-Camp. Directed to help some of the 5 million migrant laborers in the UAE, Adopt-A-Camp teaches laborers English lessons as well as teaches them their rights as migrant workers.

Shaikh started this organization after multiple interactions with humble and hardworking migrant workers, and realizing her possible role. Now with 52 camps across the UAE, her standards are still high, as she tells CNN, “Every camp we adopt we make bed bug-free, cockroach-free and lice-free. We physically shampoo the men’s hair ourselves,” proving to them they are just as worthy of healthy living as every other citizen of the UAE.

Over time, Shaikh has picked up some high-ranking supporters in the government, including the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Labor. Using this support, she helps ensure payment for the men’s work, something often lacking. Shaikh says, “It was a common problem during the recession, but it still happens now and again. We’d hear from the men that they hadn’t been paid for months, or even a year, and that their families were starving and they were starving. We worked with the Ministry of Labor to help them get home, or find a better job.” This allowed hopeful futures and stability for a group of men who once could barely afford bread rolls for their families.

While standards are on the rise, there are still levels of discrepancy that affect the lives of laborers. Employers are required to pay them once a month for their work, and there is a plan of action laborers can take should they not receive payment.

Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, looked into this and found that the laws aren’t always enforced, saying, “Theoretically, workers can take complaints to the labor courts. Theoretically, they should be able to get their salaries back, but justice is dispensed in a very ad hoc manner, if it is dispensed at all,” showing the lack of separation between government and migrant employers.

Shaikh demonstrates an unfortunately underrepresented population of compassionate people. There is an unlikely hope that Saudi businessmen will support similar initiatives that show concern for migrant workers and offer opportunities for justice.

After eight years of ongoing dedication to Adopt-a-Camp, Shaikh has managed this flourishing organization by herself, gathering members of her growing family and helping them see what they can fight for.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: CNN, Adopt-a-Camp, Saudi Gazette, Gulf News
Photo: Adopt-a-Camp

Slavery in qatar
When many people think about the term “slavery,” they may reflect on it as a historical institution of the imperial powers of the West. They may even erroneously deem slavery as a decrepit artifact of the past. However, although many history textbooks tend to portray slavery as strictly a practice of the colonial and imperial past, this horrendous institution remains extant throughout many parts of the modern world, Qatar being one of them.

The very same countries that are thought of as exotic vacation hot-spots may also be teeming with covert slave trades. After all, since only a handful of nations are as developed and as advanced as the Western world, some of these less-developed nations rely on slave networks to buttress their nascent economies. For instance, the blistering topic of an emerging controversy unveiled by an investigation by The Guardian, slavery in Qatar has captured media attention because Qatar has purportedly used slave labor in its endeavors to prepare for World Cup 2022.

One may find it ironic that intense mistreatment can exist in a country whose population is composed primarily of migrant workers, however, it is an undeniable reality for many laborers in Qatar. Among Qatar’s two million residents, a paltry 225,000 are natural citizens with the rest of the populace primarily comprised of South Asian migrant workers. These workers hail from less-developed nations such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Qatari officials view the World Cup 2022 as a ceremony in which not only the classic sport of soccer is honored, but also in which cultural relations can be repaired. To prepare for the ceremony, Qatar is investing a reported $100 billion on infrastructure in addition to another $20 billion toward renovating roads and constructing new roads and stadiums. However, behind the glimmering windows and cascading high-rises lurks the masked scandal of slave labor.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, approximately 4,000 South Asian workers will perish before the festivities of the World Cup 2022 even begin. Furthermore, an investigation by The Guardian unearthed shocking maltreatment of Nepalese laborers who have to endure conditions such as lack of water, food, payment and legal identification. With such horrific conditions, one may wonder how these laborers would ever agree to work for such exploitative employers. However, these unsuspecting migrant workers, eager to earn money and support their starving families, are often tricked into signing false contracts. For instance, workers are given one contract before arriving to Qatar, but upon arrival, they are given a second, demeaning contract. When news broke of the slave-like treatment of migrant workers, there was subsequent backlash.

In order to mitigate subsequent backlash, Qatar officials stated that they would replace the present kafala system with a more democratic system. The kafala system is a sponsorship system in which workers are bound to an all-powerful and oftentimes boundless employer. In a statement issued by the human rights director of the Qatari interior ministry, Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, the Colonel professes that “We are going to abolish the kafala system and it will move to the legislative institutions… It will be replaced by a contractual relationship between employer and employee.”

Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi also proposes to modify this system by facilitating workers’ ability to obtain exit visas in order to leave their sponsor in the event of mistreatment or simply just a desire to seek other employment. A substantial portion of these reforms are based on advice from DLA Piper, a London law firm that had been mandated with the task of reviewing the implementation of revised labor laws in Qatar. For instance, DLA Piper proposed that a sponsor would be required to show substantial and viable proof supporting his or her objection to permitting a worker to terminate their labor services. Other reform proposals include implementing sanctions against inadequate employers and engendering a more closely-working relationship between the workers’ home countries and their host country.

Although the proposals by DLA may point to an easy resolution, the chances of Qatar following through on these orders is a topic of question and doubt. One major concern from Amnesty International is that although Qatar proposes modifications to the kafala system, all reforms must ultimately be verified and approved by the shura, or advisory council, that legislates many Emirate nations. According to Amnesty International, the shura is expected to strongly oppose the aforementioned proposed changes to the long-standing kafala system due to feared economic consequences.

For instance, Nicholas McGeehan, an activist from Human Rights Watch, voiced his concern by blatantly stating, “The notion that the kafala system can be abolished by no longer referring to a sponsor but an employer-employee relationship is utterly preposterous.” McGeehan’s statement captures the concern that many proponents of reform in Qatar face.

Is the government going to implement adequate change or attempt to shroud the issue with a simple name change?

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources:New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

 

uk_migrant_workers_abused
A Human Rights Watch report reveals that traveling employers often abuse their migrant workers in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the government tends to neglect the abuses and has thus far made it harder for the workers to escape the prison-like conditions.

According to the report’s press release, migrant workers face a range of abuses such as “confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days and very low wages or non-payment of wages.”

In 2012, the U.K., despite being challenged by UN experts and NGOs, terminated the migrant workers’ right to change their employers upon their arrival from a different country.

Before traveling to the U.K., under the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, domestic workers are required to have been employed by their employer for no less than a year. The visa also limits the employer and the migrant worker to a temporary visit.

“The most serious consequence of the new tied visa for migrant domestic workers is that if they leave their employ they become undocumented,” the report explains. “As a result, domestic workers who have escaped for abusive conditions can be afraid to approach the police out of fear of being deported from the U.K.”

Similar abuses such as the ones occurring in the U.K. take place in the Gulf under the “kafala” system.

According to Graham Peebles, director of the Create Trust, “The draconian Kafala sponsorship system, (which grants ownership of migrants to their sponsor), together with poor or non-existent labour laws, endemic racism and gender prejudice, creates an environment in which extreme mistreatment has become commonplace in the oil-rich kingdom.”

Although the U.K. government was criticized for doing little to stop the practice of kafala within its borders, HRW suggested it could still act to prevent further abuses.

For example, many abusive employers also serve as diplomats who are given immunity due to their profession. On the other hand, one possible course of action that could be taken involves waiving the immunity given to them when they commit crimes against the migrant workers.

As for the U.K. parliament, HRW suggests that the institution should pass legislation that criminalizes the confiscation of the workers’ passports.

While the government decides what to do next, diplomats who already practice kafala in their own countries are given the impression that they can continue to abuse their migrant workers while traveling in the U.K.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Flickr

Deportation_Saudi_Arabia
According to a migrant human rights group, a mass deportation policy in Saudi Arabia is counterintuitive and is ultimately harming the nation’s economy.

Migrant Rights reported in its website that “Nitaqat” led to the deportation of more than 800,000 migrants in 2013 and is now putting pressure on companies that play a substantial role in the kingdom’s economy.

“Saudi’s volatile policies against undocumented workers and Nitaqat-incompliant companies not only contravenes migrants’ rights, but have again proven detrimental to Saudi’s economy,” the groups claims.

The fact that many shops are expected to close and that companies have had a difficult time recruiting nationals due to low wages are only two of many unintended consequences of the policy. But many, including economists, have predicted the “adverse economic consequences of Saudi’s nationalization schemes” since before the Nitaqat’s debut in late 2011.

“Both international observers and local employers warned that the rigid imposition of national quotas coupled with mass deportations would debilitate sectors of the Saudi economy and could even lead to a reduction in national employment rates,” claims Migrant Right’s website.

Despite Nitaqat’s having a negative effect on Saudi Arabia’s economy, Migrant Rights is mainly concerned about the challenges the policy forces migrant workers to face. The group asserts that it results in “coercive factors” such as employers wrongly accusing migrants as “huroob” (runaways) so they can hire new workers.

Under the policy, “migrants who escape are considered illegal – they are not entitled to any back pay, and can be fined, indefinitely detained and deported.” However, migrants have already been affected by another system placed within Saudi Arabia prior to Nitaqat.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW,) many migrants are abused, exploited and even forced work against their will under the kafala system.

“The kafala (sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to “sponsoring” employers, who written consent is required for workers to change employers or exit the country,” claims HRW. However, employers take advantage of the system by stealing the migrants’ passports and forcing them to work without being paid.

Saudi Arabia is home to over nine million migrant workers. For the most part, these workers take on clerical and customer service jobs. They make more than half the kingdom’s workforce.

Migrant workers end up in Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations in order to have the opportunities that their own lands could not provide. If it wishes to help people stemming from impoverished countries as well as its own economy, the Saudi government must put an end to the Nitaqat and Kafala polices.

Juan Campos

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Migrant Rights
Photo: Dady Chery

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

Migrant Workers in Qatar
The skyline of Qatar’s capital, Doha, showcases gargantuan skyscrapers towering high into the sky. Being the site of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is pursuing extensive infrastructure projects to prepare for the massive influx of rabid soccer fans eager to cheer on their favorite team.

Much of the infrastructure projects that are underway rely on migrant workers for completion. In recent months, several stories have broken regarding the terrible working conditions these workers face. Some assert that the working conditions are so bad it amounts to forced labor.

Many of these migrant workers hail from a variety of countries but the majority tend to be Nepalese. Facing poverty at home, they venture outside their borders, via recruiting agencies, in order to provide for their families.

Abigail Hauslohner, details the process by which these migrant workers become the victims of an international forced labor scheme in a recent Washington Post article. Many workers must pay recruitment agencies hundreds or even thousands of dollars to secure a job out of the country. Once the journey is made, workers claim their IDs and passports are confiscated upon arrival, making them illegal aliens.

The Guardian reports that many workers accrue massive loans to the recruitment agencies that, due to the lack of payment for their hard work, they are unable to repay. Some of the loans are reported to have interest rates of up to 36%.

The working conditions that many encounter on a day to day basis are deadly. This past summer, it was reported that an average of one Nepalese worker died per day. Over half died from heart attacks associated with heatstroke. The Nepalese embassy stationed in Doha has reported that 44 workers died between June 4 through August 8.

Lacking payment for their work, some workers are growing hungry, reports Amnesty International. 80 workers have revealed they have not been paid for over a year. The company employing them has recently ceased a monthly food stipend of 250 riyals, amounting to just $69. Luckily, a group of Doha residents have taken notice of their situation and began donating food to help.

Facing large debt, possessing no form of identification and an inability to leave the workplace has placed these migrant workers in a dire situation. Holding illegal alien status, without any way to recover their identification, leaves them with no legal protection under Qatari law. They are trapped in a cycle of forced labor.

Some hold out hope that the eventual 2022 World Cup will force a change. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee in charge of preparing for the games states they have taken notice of the problem. The committee insists they will introduce measures to improve labor standards.

Nasser al-Khater, spokesman for the committee, has stated they are in the midst of developing worker welfare standards that come into compliance with international best practices. Contractors will be forced to comply with these standards.

The dichotomy present in the richest per capita country in the world is stark. Qatari citizens enjoy free healthcare, education and electricity while the towering infrastructure is erected by migrant workers suffering under the injustice of forced labor.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: Washington Post, The Guardian, Amnesty International
Photo: Vintage 3D