FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia

Slavery still exists today. And it exists in the Gulf states and in Saudi Arabia.

I am Syrian, but I was born and raised in Dubai where my parents worked. When I was in grade school we often collected donations to give to the migrant laborers in a construction camp near our school. We went to visit the camp to deliver the donations, and I witnessed with my own eyes the miserable conditions of the laborers. I could not believe my eyes—it was a dump. A twelve by ten room shared by eight men. Forty-five workers shared one toilet and a shower. The toilet and the shower were filthy.

In the eighteen years I spent living in the United Arab Emirates, I learned a lot about how people treat other people. Over nine million people live in the United Arab Emirates, ninety-two percent of them are expats and migrant workers. Most of the migrant laborers come from Pakistan, India, Philippines, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka. They work long hours and earn very little money in construction, garbage collection, and other menial jobs. The gap between the rich and the poor is huge. People from those states furnish cheap labor, and they face racism and discrimination. There is a hierarchy. Arab expatriates may hold higher paying positions, but even within Arab expatriates there is another hierarchy. Expatriates from Saudi Arabia are usually treated better than expatriates from Egypt for example. They are also discriminated against. Nationality plays a major role in what position a person can hold in the United Arab Emirates. Even at McDonalds or KFC the managers were always Arabs while the other employees were Filipinos, Indians, and the other people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. You will never find a Filipino being a manager over an Arab worker. The division of labor is appalling – the same inequities that exist in the economic system of the United States have been reproduced in these countries as well.

In Wikipedia Dubai is described as a city “known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene” yet there are millions of foreign migrant laborers who struggle to buy a piece of bread for lunch. Before the 1960’s Dubai was just desert. It was the migrant laborers who transformed it into the city that millions of tourists visit today. But hidden behind these glossy images in the mass media are the migrant laborers, who are treated like slaves and who live in miserable conditions. Dubai would still be desert today without them. They do so much yet are paid very little.

Being an international student, a Syrian, who grew up in Dubai, distinguishes me from most of the other students at the University of Rochester. About twenty percent of the student body are international students – but even most of them have not been exposed to as many different cultures as I have been. People question me about my background regularly. People are curious about where I come from. They often ask me, What Dubai is like? Their image of Dubai is really only based on what the rulers of the country have put out in the mass media. Many of them assume I am rich simply because I lived in Dubai. When I hear such questions, the first thing that comes to my mind is the horrible gap between the rich and the poor –how most of the local wealthy Emiratis look down on the migrant laborers from countries like the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan. It is pathetic to see how the hardest jobs are the ones that pay the least, while the easiest jobs where someone sits in an air conditioned office with his feet up on his desk pay twenty times as much.

Unfortunately, the United Arab Emirates is not the only country that treats migrant laborers this way. All of the Persian Gulf states have large numbers of foreign workers, and in most cases they outnumber the native citizens of the country. Qatar has 1.8 million foreign workers but only 300,000 native citizens. The foreign laborers holding menial tasks live in terrible conditions, and they are “trapped into permanent debt, exposed to hazardous working conditions and denied the right to unionize.”[i] Due to the lack of financial opportunities in their native countries, the migrant workers are forced to work in the Gulf or Saudi Arabia to provide for their families. Although most of them think they will have a better standard of living, but they find a very different and miserable reality. The working conditions are inhuman; the laborers are expected to work for hours in temperatures that reach up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It was reported that between 2010 and 2012, seven hundred Indian workers died in Qatar due to these conditions.

The same conditions exist in Saudi Arabia. But they are not limited simply to working and living conditions. Female household servants from places like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia are sexually abused and raped by their employers.

I am an Arab who believes in human rights. I believe that every human being should be treated equally, regardless of nationality, religion or race. But are there human rights in these countries? No. The tragedy is our world is divided between a small wealthy class and a large class of impoverished people, between people born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and others who struggle to obtain their basic needs.  Although I was born and raised there, I am glad I am Syrian, and not from the despicable state of the United Arab Emirates.

Notes.

[i] https://www.thenation.com/article/kingdom-slaves-persian-gulf/

More articles by:
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
Marilyn Garson
If the Gaza Blockade is Bad, Does That Make Hamas Good?
Sean Posey
Declinism Rising: An Interview with Morris Berman  
Jack Dresser
America’s Secret War on Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Use and Misuse of Charity: the Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System
Louis Proyect
In the Spirit of the Departed Munsees
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Alex Jones and Infowars
Mundher Al Adhami
On the Iraqi Protests, Now in Their Second Month 
Jeff Mackler
Nicaragua: Dynamics of an Interrupted Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Peter Wadhams, Professor Emeritus, Ocean Physics
David Macaray
Missouri Stands Tall on the Labor Front
Thomas Knapp
I Didn’t Join Facebook to “Feel Safe”
John Carroll Md
Are Haitian Doctors Burned Out?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail