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The Kafala System: Sad Truth of Slavery in the Middle East

The Kafala System: Sad Truth of Slavery in the Middle East

Bhavya Surapaneni

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

What is The Kafala System

the kafala system

The Kafala System also referred to as the Kefala system, is an exploitative, even abusive form of forced labour that predominates in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and many other Middle Eastern countries. The migrant workforce in the Middle East consists of 30 million people, with most of them being from Africa and Asia, so the region is heavily dependent on migrant workers, making this system a truly global problem.

In the Kafala system, labourers are forced into contracts with their employers that give the employer control over nearly all of the laborers’ rights. Employers are entitled to exploit, underpay, and violently abuse their labourers, who just need to make a living to support themselves and their families. The legal status of migrant workers in the country they immigrated to often depends on their boss, so workers will often work without wages to avoid deportation to their home country. This binding of
labourers to their employers put workers in unsafe and unjust situations, and they can’t do anything about it.

Where does the problem arise from?

kafala attitude

The problem stems from the privatization of management: employers control the visas and legal residency of their workers. This qualifies labourers as the “dependents” of their employer, thereby giving them few, even no rights in the country that they immigrated to. Because workers are forced to rely on their employers for nearly everything, they do not have a voice and can not stand up for themselves without facing the cruel, brutal consequences of the system. Laborers have been arrested, detained, and even expelled from countries without the ability to return to their home country, primarily for financial reasons, as workers’ wages are below subsistence.

Role of The Kafala System in the Middle East

kafala in Middle East

Kafala continues to predominate as a labour system in many Middle Eastern countries today, because of its affiliation with the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC. The GCC is an intergovernmental, political union between every Arab Gulf state other than Iraq. Affiliated countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The GCC originally utilized Kafala as a system for economic growth with temporary workers, and Kafala took off and expanded beyond the gulf to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon.

With the labour system running in countless countries throughout the Middle East, millions of workers used for their labour-power, and are often paid nothing for their services. Most countries in the GCC continues to use Kafala today, and labourers continue to be exploited with nothing to do about it.

In Saudi Arabia, approximately 11 million migrant workers live and work under the Kafala System, according to Amnesty International. This is approximately one-third of the population of the country. In the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers are a majority of the population and face labour abuse and few rights, undeterred by recent reforms claiming more rights for migrant labourers. In Bahrain, migrant workers are a majority and have faced labour abuse, with their employers refusing to pay them their rightfully-owned wages. Bahrain placed restrictions on the right to free speech,
limiting the abilities of workers to protest.

Similar situations occur in most other GCC countries and neighbouring countries that use the Kafala system. Labourers are not given rights, and their irregular status due to privatized visas places restrictions on their abilities as migrants. However, in recent years, some change has occurred and the system has been recognized as what it truly is: modern-day slavery. Organizations have been founded to provide resources and financial aid to workers who have been used and abused by the system, and the issue has gained much more attention through the internet. Kafala continues to be ignored by mainstream media, likely due to ignorance of the existence of this system.

Why Haven’t I heard of this before?

abolish kafala

Because it isn’t addressed in primary news sources, the Kafala system is not well
known in countries outside of the Middle East, so advocacy for an umbrella ban of the system is not having any impact. It may seem that there’s little that youth can do to make a difference in the lives of migrant workers, but remember that the youth played a large part in inciting legal action against the murderers of George Floyd and many victims of racial violence. If we can apply the same anger, the same demand for accountability to the Kafala system and so many more issues, we can achieve a real outcome.

So, get angry! Talk about the issue on social media and help gain global awareness of this issue. You can also directly help workers being used in the Kafala system by donating to organizations such as ThisisLebanon.info, Migrant-Rights.org, and EgnaLegna.org. These organizations work to get migrant labourers back to their homes, help them financially, and provide them with essentials so they can survive the harsh conditions in their workplaces.

As the generation of the future, we have not only the ability but a responsibility to impact change for a better world. As youth activists and human rights advocates, we can save the millions of workers trapped in this exploitative system of modern-day slavery.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

In light of racial and social justice issues surfacing in mainstream media, people around the world have been discussing and debating pressing issues that are not only political but human rights issues. With matters of justice becoming conversation pieces, it’s important that we make the most of the situation and bring attention to issues such as the Kafala System that have gone unnoticed by the press. As has been chewed over by many, modern-day slavery is present in the United States and many other countries through prison labour and human trafficking, but another brutal, blatantly exploitative form is present in Asia: the Kafala System.

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