World news

The great misery of the small hands of the Gulf

They wanted to see and hear the migrant workers without whom the Gulf countries, and in particular Qatar, although rich in black gold or natural gas, could not boast of organizing major events such as the World football or rise to the rank of international powers. In an ambitious investigation, the two independent journalists, Sebastian Castelier and Quentin Müller, specialists in the Arabian Peninsula, – they collaborate with many media, including The cross – did not just go to the small gas emirate on which all the spotlights are trained. They chose to take an interest in the system as a whole, starting from the countries of emigration, on the shores of Lake Victoria, in Kenya, to the Nepalese or Indian countryside.

The Gulf countries are seen as an escape route for tens of thousands of workers who only aspire to escape unemployment and poverty in order to support their families back home. “Nobody forces us physically, but it’s poverty, our life here that forces us to go there”, summarizes Trance, a poultry farmer from Mombasa. And the abuses begin even before boarding the plane, when this cheap labor must pay upstream recruitment agencies or suffer exorbitant rates to finance their departure.

Once in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates, these “contemporary slaves”, as the authors call them, are subject to “kafala”. The basis of employer exploitation in the Gulf, this system requires that each foreign worker has a sponsor – in effect his boss – in order to change employers or leave the country. Through some sixty testimonials from workers, relatives and witnesses to these practices, the almost systematic nature of the abuses emerges, whether it is low wages, deplorable working conditions or segregated housing. And then there are the suspicious deaths, the rapes, the disappearances…

An “unsuspected hell”

Even in Qatar, where kafala has been officially abolished, violations of labor law remain legion. The two journalists went to the Doha Industrial Zone where some 400,000 workers live, mostly Asians and Africans, and their conclusion is clear: the violations remain, because “the laws are not respected by companies” summarizes Ahmed, a Togolese interviewed with great caution by the authors.

And beyond this “unsuspected hell”there is a human cost that cannot be seen even less: shortage of labor in the countries of origin, destroyed families, alcoholism, dropping out of school… A whole ecosystem from which the rich petromonarchies of the Gulf, the country of emigration (“If only the government would negotiate with Arab countries to impose dignified treatment on its citizens! » affirms one of their interlocutors), certain multinationals, and all those who have an interest in turning a blind eye to this disturbing reality. An important work to understand in an enlightened way the questions surrounding the World Cup.

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