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Middle East’s exploitative labour market



Newspaper title

The Daily Star


The Daily Star

Full text

A two-year study by the International Labor Organization based on 650 interviews and research conducted in Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, has found that some 600,000 people have been ‘tricked and trapped’ into forced employment. Several of them are also victims of sexual exploitation.

With migration and remittance being as important as it is to Bangladesh with thousands of migrant workers going abroad every year to the Middle East, such findings are obviously cause for concern. In fact, the study specifically looked at workers who were originally recruited from Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka as domestic workers but later forced to work as animal herders in the desert. While members of the male-dominated economic sectors such as construction, manufacturing, seafaring and agriculture were deceived with respect to living and working conditions, job types and even the existence of jobs at all, women were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Having originally migrated as domestic workers, nurses, teachers or waitresses, they were abducted by their freelance agents and forced to provide commercial sexual services to clients.

Many of these Arab states have a kafala system under which labourers have in-country sponsors responsible for their visa and legal status. They are often the employers themselves, and insufficient laws which restrict migrant workers’ ability to terminate employment and change employers putting workers at their mercy.

A reform of the kafala system and labour laws in general in the Middle East, which should include more stringent inspection and monitoring of foreign workers is a means of countering the exploitation perpetrated against them.

Migrant workers literally put their lives on the line, sometimes selling off all they own for an opportunity to go abroad and often working in inhumane conditions once there, simply to make a living for themselves and their families. They deserve to work in safe conditions agreed upon prior to departure and it is the duty of both sending and hosting states to ensure their protection.



migrant workers, Middle-East

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis, Documented cases of abuse, and Support initiatives

Target groups

Policymakers, Public awareness, Researchers, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses


Spheres of activity

Social work