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Migrant workers in GCC countries suffer much due to Kafala system

Md Owasim Uddin Bhuyan

Bangladeshi overseas workers employed in the states of Gulf Cooperation Council have been suffering from problems like job termination, detention, deportation and denial of service benefits due to existing Kafala (sponsorship) system, according to officials and concerned organisations.
The GCC comprises of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
According to the Kafala system introduced in 1950 to regulate the relationship between employers and migrant workers in the GCC states, migrant workers are legally bound to an employer or sponsor (Kafeel) during their contract period.
Experts and officials suggested bringing reforms in the Kafala system to reduce suffering of the migrant workers working in the GCC countries.
Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit has so far recorded 10 case-studies on Bangladeshi migrant workers who became victims of Kafala system in the GCC countries, said RMMRU founding Chairperson Tasneem Siddiqui.
Sohel of Mirshorai union of Chittagong, after going to Dubai, learned that his work permit was not for working in a shop rather to work in a date orchard. On his arrival, his passport was taken away by his employer (kafeel) who had more workers than what he required. So Sohel did not work regularly and received irregular salary.
He was kept in a room with many other workers under lock and key. He quit the job and started working in another place. His employer reported to the police and subsequently Sohel was arrested by police. He is now in jail.
Md. Jabbar of Gouripur worked in a company in Saudi Arabia for two years. He did not interact with his employer who took all his papers. He kept Jabbar in a congested place with other workers. He received half of the salary he was contracted for.
After his visa expired, the company kept him engaged in work without renewing the contract. He left the company and took work in another place. At one stage, he was caught by the police for not having necessary papers. When he informed the police that all his papers were with his previous employer, the employer denied the complaint.
The employer made a fictitious claim to police that Jabbar was absconding, once his visa expired. He was then deported to Bangladesh.
According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, Saddam Hossain and Riyadh, sons of Abdus Sattar of Roghunathpur village in Chatkhil upazila of Nokhali district went to Saudi Arabia in 2010.
After going there, when they found employer did not pay salary, they tried to get job at another place. Police then arrested them as they have no documents, which were kept with kafeel. The two brothers are now detained in Almalaj central jail of Saudi Arabia.
Prasad Kumaran, lawyer at Indian embassy at Muscat in Oman, said migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon, were facing harassment as sponsors or kafeels snatched away all travel documents of the workers after their arrival.
The migrant workers cannot move out of a certain area without permission of kafeels and they cannot transfer jobs to another better paid employer, he said.
Mehru Vesuvala, a social worker of Bahrain, said there were many problems associated with the kafala system in the GCC countries.
She said the international labor organisation had called for  major reforms of the Kafala system which has been crticised as ‘bonded labor’ or ‘modern day slavery’ by many international human rights groups.
She also said reforms were undertaken in the GCC countries in response to growing criticism of the Kafala system.
When asked, Tasneem Siddiqui told New Age that Kafala system prevailed in the GCC countries for many years and it could not be stopped overnight.
She said concerned departments or ministries of the GCC countries should be made Kafeels instead of individual persons to reduce suffering of the migrant workers.
Tasneem also said the labor sending countries should place kafala system in the international forums to bring reforms in the system.

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