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Migrant workers ‘feel trapped in the Gulf

An article published on February 23, 2011, on the December 18 website (

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"An American researcher on Asian employment in the Gulf region says many migrant workers are “trapped in a tricky situation” due to lack of proper information in their countries about the working conditions in the Gulf.

Speaking at a seminar organised by Qatar University, Andrew Gardner, an assistant professor at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, said many potential migrants continue to envision the Gulf as a place “where the streets are paved with gold.”

He said in many parts of South Asia, “the Gulf states are stereotyped as lands of unlimited opportunities.”
The researcher, who has been studying these issues since 1999, said when they face the stark reality in the Gulf, “many of the unskilled migrants simply want to go home.”
He said the migrants usually pay up to $3,000 to obtain visas, but their contracts are often changed once they arrive in the Gulf.

“They find that the working conditions are often more difficult than they were told in their home countries. In addition, they face poor living conditions in their labour camps, where eight, 10, or 12 men are often accommodated in a single room, and 50 or more men might share a single bathroom or kitchen. Many even lack a constant supply of electricity and water.”

He said despite the problems in the villages and towns from where these men come, “they almost universally report that the conditions of these camps are well below the conditions they are accustomed to back home. With the exception of problems with their salary, complaints about the living conditions of the camps, by my estimation, are the most central issue in their difficult experiences here in the Gulf.”

The researcher also said “they are often forced to work overtime without additional pay; monthly wages are commonly withheld; a variety of costs contractually associated with the sponsor are passed to the migrant; many migrants are only partially documented; their freedom of movement is often limited; many are actively prevented from communicating with their citizen-sponsor; and the court system configured to assist these men is only sporadically responsive.”

Gardner said in many cases the migrants were not primarily responsible for their decision to come to the region. “Rather, in South Asia, those decisions are often made by parents. Fathers and parents send their adult children to the Gulf to increase household income.”

He said that “freedom of movement of many low-income migrants is significantly attenuated in Qatar.”

Gardner said “most public spaces in the city are forbidden to them, and travelling from their distant camps to other parts of the city is expensive by their standards.”
He added that this issue is particularly acute with women workers, “as they are often prohibited from leaving their camps on their day off.”

The researcher said “this experience of life in the Gulf is significantly different from the lives that both citizens and elite foreigners enjoy.”

Gardner remarked that Asian labour migrants “have little contact with Qataris and Qatari culture. This is largely a product of their socially and spatially segregated existence in Doha.”

He said “other than those who work in the domestic sector or ministry offices, most of these migrant labourers have no opportunity to learn about Qatar and its traditions.”

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