Empowering Migrant Workers: The Crucial Role of NGOs in Advocacy, Research, and Inclusive

Strategies

By Zaya Stas

At the intersection of humanitarian efforts and social work, the tireless dedication of Non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) becomes apparent. The significance of their work in
supporting migrant workers and fighting for their rights cannot be overstated. Within this broader
scope, one vital aspect of their mission is advocating for and safeguarding the rights of migrants,
ensuring their dignity, protection, and inclusion in society. NGOs have been crucial in urgently
supporting migrant workers and fighting for their rights. Moreover, migrant workers face
numerous challenges worldwide, such as exploitation, discrimination, inadequate living
conditions, and limited access to essential resources. In recent years, the global advocacy for
migrant workers has seen a remarkable increase in the number of NGOs involved. These
organizations employ diverse strategies to empower migrant workers effectively. The Middle
East, in particular, presents barriers to healthcare, housing, and decent working conditions for
migrant workers. This blog aims to shed light on the methods NGOs have used to improve the
lives of migrant workers, and I intend to provide insight into the challenges NGOs face to
empower migrant workers in the region.

NGOs often rely on funding from donors to support their operations and effectively assist the
communities they serve, mainly because their financial resources are limited. While NGOs need
to be accountable and manage their resources efficiently to achieve quick results, they also hold
themselves to moral standards and uphold specific values. The reliance on external funding can
pose unique challenges, requiring NGOs to navigate the fine line between financial sustainability
and staying true to their moral commitments.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides a real-life example of an NGO
employing proactive strategies in supporting migrant workers. During the Syrian refugee crisis,
the IOM implemented a comprehensive approach to address the needs of displaced individuals.
They established temporary schools within refugee camps to educate and support children and
adolescents. Over time, as the crisis evolved, the IOM strategically adjusted their focus to longer-
term solutions. They advocated for policy changes and worked towards integrating refugee
children into national education systems. This adaptable approach reflects the IOM’s
commitment to continuously reassess strategies and seek sustainable solutions that empower
migrant communities.

NGOs have the remarkable ability to involve migrant workers in decision-making processes,
empowering them to shape their own lives and fight for their rights. A prime example is the
Worker’s Action Centre (WAC), an NGO based in Canada that advocates for low-wage migrant
workers. Through their transformative Leadership Development program, WAC helps migrant
workers gain knowledge, skills, and tools to become advocates for their rights. The program
includes workshops and training sessions on workers’ rights, employment standards, and
navigating the legal system. What’s remarkable is that these sessions are co-designed and co-
facilitated by migrant workers who have faced similar challenges themselves. Similarly, Kuwait
Aid Network (KAN) offers the KAN Skill Development Program, which provides practical skills
training to migrant workers. The program covers legal and labour rights topics and valuable
skills such as sewing, cooking, and language proficiency in Arabic and English. These initiatives
foster trust and inclusivity by adopting culturally sensitive approaches and creating safe spaces.
They recognize the unique circumstances, goals, and strengths of migrant workers, ensuring their
voices are heard. This active involvement of migrant workers informs efforts to improve their
working conditions and combat exploitation and discrimination.

To develop a profound understanding of the contexts in which migrant workers navigate, NGOs
engage in research and data collection tailored to their unique experiences. This research should
encompass economic, social, cultural, and legal factors that shape their lives. When considering
the significance of research conducted by NGOs, one example that comes to mind is Kuwait Aid
Network’s (KAN) efforts to explore healthcare accessibility for migrant workers and vulnerable
individuals in Kuwait.  KAN joined the Vital Signs Partnership, organized by Fairsquare, a UK-
based organization, which brought together various organizations and individuals who
collaborated to advocate for improved protection for low-paid migrant workers in the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. As part of their involvement, KAN focused on
researching healthcare accessibility for migrant workers and vulnerable individuals in Kuwait.
Their efforts aimed to understand the challenges faced by these groups and identify ways to
enhance their access to healthcare services. KAN’s survey project looked into the healthcare
situation in Kuwait for vulnerable migrant workers, gathering responses from over 1000
participants. It was disheartening to learn that 67% of respondents reported instances of
healthcare workers displaying negative attitudes towards migrant workers. Furthermore, 65%
admitted to resorting to self-medication with over-the-counter drugs when they couldn’t access
proper healthcare for a severe illness. 21% of the respondents reported that healthcare was
complicated, while 31% stated that they could rarely or never afford it. These findings highlight
the challenges faced by migrant workers in Kuwait, including negative attitudes, limited access,
and financial barriers to essential healthcare services. Recognizing the importance of the well-
being and rights of migrant workers, it is evident that conducting research in collaboration with
migrant communities is crucial. Engaging in dialogues, conducting community consultations,
and establishing partnerships with local organizations are vital steps in ensuring that research
efforts are tailored to their needs.

In conclusion, NGOs are crucial in empowering migrant workers and addressing their
challenges. They involve migrant workers in decision-making processes, promote their agency,
and employ culturally sensitive approaches. NGOs like Worker’s Action Centre (WAC) and
Kuwait Aid Network (KAN) actively involve migrant workers in programs, empowering them to
advocate for their rights. Research, such as KAN’s survey on healthcare accessibility in Kuwait,
helps understand the unique circumstances faced by migrant workers. These successful efforts
adopted by NGOs collectively aim to improve working conditions and combat exploitation and
discrimination.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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