General: Migrant workers still face widespread violations of their civil and human rights across the Middle East

Migrant workers across the Middle East are not treated the same as the citizens in case of payment, compensation, promotion, training opportunities, in addition to medical care, and often have their basic rights violated, according to research by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. This report focuses on violations in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Lebanon.

Families of several Filipino workers who died due to Covid-19 and are buried in Saudi Arabia without the consent of their families are still facing a dilemma as they struggle to repatriate the remains of their love ones. A Facebook page entitled "Bring Home the COVID Fatalities" focuses on the plight of the Filipino workers who died in Saudi Arabia. On 05 July 2020, a family member published the following appeal: "Our plea.. Our Cry.. Please help us send our loved ones back home."

On 02 July 2020, Silvestre Bello, the current Secretary of the Philippines' Department of Labour and Employment, revealed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia already buried the remains of three Filipino workers without the consent of their families. However, reliable sources informed GCHR that the total number of the families in a similar situation could be eight or more.

On 05 July 2020, Ella and Jag Galat published together the following post on their Facebook page: "No one asked for consent from us, no one called to let us know that papa is about to be buried. NONE." They published the post after their father was quickly buried in Saudi Arabia without their consent, after being previously told that his remains would be repatriated.

As of August 2020, the remains of 267 Filipinos who died, most of them from Covid-19, were repatriated from Saudi Arabia during four flights.

On 14 March 2021, Ahmed bin Suleiman bin Abdulaziz Al-Rajhi, who is the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, issued a decision to abolish the Sponsorship System (known as the Kafala system) that has been in place since 1951 and announced that the Initiative to Improve Contractual Relationships in the Private Sector, launched by the Ministry in November 2020, had entered into force. The advantages offered by the initiative to migrant workers include "the job mobility service that allows a migrant worker to move upon the end of his/her work contract without the need for the employer's approval" after 90 days; and provides "the exit and return service, which allows a migrant worker to travel outside the Kingdom, upon submitting the e-application with notice given to the employer." 

However, the new "No Kafala" system will not allow workers to come to the country until after their work contract is available. Furthermore, the requirement to wait three months to switch to a new job is a long period that restricts the freedom of movement and work for workers. Also, this initiative will not include five professions, namely private drivers, guards, domestic workers, shepherds and gardeners.  Despite the absence of accurate official statistics about their actual number, some media sources suggested that there are about 3.66 million males and females representing about 59% of workers in the private sector in the Kingdom.

In Yemen, on 07 March 2021, a massive fire broke out in the Passport Building Prison in the capital, Sana'a, where nearly 900 foreign migrants, most of them Ethiopians, are being held, resulting in the death of 30 of them. The fire left more than 170 injured people who are still receiving treatment, including critical cases, according to a statement by the International Organisation for Migration, published on its website on 09 March 2021. The prison is controlled by the de facto government, the Houthi group.

Ethiopian migrants were on hunger strike to protest against the poor conditions of detention and overcrowding, in addition to their demands for their release. The fire took place minutes after riot police arrived and fired two tear gas canisters inside and outside the detention facility. Reliable security reports from the prison itself confirmed that some of those who lost their lives as a result of the fire were in possession of official residency documents.

In Lebanon, the Monthly Magazine, published since 2002 by the International Information Company, an independent scientific studies, research and statistics company established in Beirut in 1995, confirmed that "the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), the living and economic crisis, and the collapse of the exchange rate of the Lebanese Lira against the dollar and other foreign currencies" led to "a decrease in the number of Arab and foreign workers who used to come to work in Lebanon, and based on the number of work permits that the General Security granted to these workers in the year 2020, they reached 9,780 work permits compared to 57,957 work permits in 2019, a decrease of 48,177 work permits, which is 83%."

Reliable local sources have confirmed to GCHR that domestic workers in Lebanon continue to suffer because they are not receiving their wages in dollars due to the lack of dollars available to their employers, so they are paid in Lebanese Lira, which have lost any real value against the US dollar significantly in the past weeks due to the continuing political crisis in the country. There have been reports about many cases in which male and female workers, due to non-payment by private employers of their wages for months in a row, were forced to leave their work and seek the help of charities in order to obtain a ticket to return to their countries. Migrant workers have been struggling to leave Lebanon since the Beirut Port blast in August 2020 (see photo above, credited to ANWAR AMRO / AFP.)

GCHR calls on the responsible authorities to end violations against migrant workers and to take the following actions:

In Saudi Arabia, to meet the demands of the families of workers to repatriate their bodies to the Philippines and provide restitution for their suffering, and respect the civil and human rights of all migrant workers.
In Sana'a, Yemen, where the Houthi group holds responsibility, to carry out a thorough and credible investigation into the fire that led to the deaths of migrants and to publish the results and bring perpetrators to justice.
In Lebanon, to protect the rights of migrant workers and facilitate the return of whomever is not receiving a salary to their home countries, should they request assistance.


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