The Slaves of the World

A recent Guardian article about the lives of  migrant workers in  Qatar highlights the issues of forced labour and slavery in  middle eastern and some European countries.

As the Guardian article notes; Qatra has the highest ratio  of migrant workers to  the domestic population in the world; more than 90%.  Aidan McQaude of Anti-Slavery International has no hesitation in calling many of these migrants not just  forced labour, but true slaves;   people who  are treated as objects.

Craig Murray,  ex British ambassador to  Uzbekistan  and long time campaigner against   child labour/slavery in their cotton  fields, notes that  both the tolerance and the exploitation of slavery or cheap  labour inevitably goes right to  the top. In Uzbekistan’s case,  to its  torture loving  President Karimov and his daughter (who  are such good friends with Tony Blair!) .  Anti Slavery  International  describes the working conditions for children  in the cotton  fields thus:  Cotton production in Uzbekistan is a state orchestrated forced-labour system. The Government of Uzbekistan forces over a million children, teachers, public servants and private sector employees to pick cotton under appalling conditions each year. Those who refuse are expelled from school, fired from their jobs, and denied public benefits or worse. The Government harasses and detains citizens seeking to monitor the situation.

In  Qatar’s case, the official responses to  the accusations  of slavery  are so  far at odds with the reality on  the ground ,  that it would be very  surprising that  the government authorities and companies involved did not have full cognisance of the systemic  exploitation occurring.

Asia News notes that  the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)  highlighted “contradictions with Qatari law” that fail “to give workers any real rights or protection from slavery conditions.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the visa sponsorship system in Qatar allows the exaction of forced labour. “Under Qatari law, employers have near total control over workers. They alone choose if a worker can change jobs, leave the country or stay in Qatar,” she said.

In 2012, the Labour Relations Department in Qatar’s Labour Ministry received 6,000 worker complaints. The top concerns facing workers included exploitation, delays in paying wages, violence and work-related safety issues and fatalities.

In one of those most malignant of ironies, Qatar is one of the richest  countries in  the world for its Qatari  citizenship  population of 300,000 (total  population of 1.9  million)

Similarly, across the border in  Saudi  Arabia, the Guardian  in January  2013, noted that  45 foreign maids faced beheading  by  the State executioner . The International  Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee of Experts on the Application of (Labour Rights) Conventions  noted in  2012 that in Saudi  Arabia the   vulnerable situation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers who are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Code, who are often confronted with employment policies such as the visa “sponsorship” system and subjected to abusive employer practices such as the retention of passports, non-payment of wages, deprivation of liberty and physical and sexual abuse which cause their employment to be transformed into situations that could amount to forced labour.

The Himalayan Times in July 2012  stated that up  to  3,000   migrant workers  from Nepal alone  had died in Saudi  Arabia since  2000.

The GypsyHowever as Migrant Rights notes, the abuse of workers is not limited to Qatar or Saudi Arabia, abuse is epidemic and systemic  in  the middle east and beyond.

As I have noted in  a previous blog , “We are all Immigrants”,  none of us have any rights to  this piece of land we currently  plant our feet on. We are simply travelers, as were our ancestors before us. And to  be fully human ,  we must  welcome those new travelers amongst  us too. And yet we continue to  play  this foolish and deadly game of  “us’  and the “others”.

French  attitudes towards  the Roma are also  indicative of the mindless attitude of those in  power towards those who believe that  simply because they  and their ancestors happen to have lived in  a geographically bounded state territory  for some time, they  are entitled to certain  privileges, and those who  are recent comers are not. The brutal   and barbarous attitude by  many in Australia towards  the “boat people” from  Asian countries, is a supreme example of this  vicious mind-set.

The concept of “citizenship” is a useful mirage,  a fiction created by states to  marginalize some populations.

In  reality any person  who lives under the jurisdiction of a state geographic entity needs to be protected by  its laws;  whether they be  occupiers of the lands for many generations,  recent  migrants,  asylum seekers, or migrant workers.

As  As’ad AbuKhalil,  aka the Angry Arab states, it is the ignorance of racsim that  drives these  brutal policies and systems of exploitation and terror.

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