Recognizing Migrant Workers’ Contributions

By Caleb Sanders

While working for KAN, I participated in various fundraising activities. Through
talking with many people about the situation of migrant workers in Kuwait and how we
can help them, I have realized that a significant contributor to the corruption of the
Kafala system is a lack of education about the situation of migrant workers in Kuwait.
Many people will shut down the conversation when they hear ‘Kuwait’ because they
think Kuwait is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Well, yes, it is, but members
of the community in Canada don’t see that it is such a prosperous country on the backs
of many suffering migrant workers who work shifts double the length and double the
effort put in for a fraction of the salary. The saddest part is that not only do the Kuwaiti
nationals benefit from the underpaying and mistreatment of migrant workers but so do
the rest of the world. In my opinion, this is why the issue is often overlooked and
conversations are suppressed. Not only should we take time to educate ourselves on
the systems that are meant to oppress migrant workers, but we should also look at how
much they have done for Kuwait as a country to make it so wealthy and beautiful, as
well as all the direct and indirect rewards we reap from their tireless efforts to work hard
and provide.

An example of how migrant workers improve the quality of life for Kuwaiti
nationals is domestic workers who travel from a different country of origin to live with
their Kuwaiti employers and care for them. These domestic workers cook, clean, care
for their employer’s children and pets and do their other daily tasks. This specific job is
often under-appreciated, and domestic workers are exploited even further than the legal
system condones more regularly than other migrant workers. This is because the
systems in place that are supposed to check in and monitor the situation of domestic
workers do not do a good enough job, and many cases of abuse and unfair treatment
are left unnoticed. Changing the way we protect migrant workers, and especially
domestic workers, is vital to make sure that their human rights are being met and their
safety and health are also being looked after. However, more than just rules must be
altered to make this systematic change. Kuwaiti nationals also must collectively start
perceiving and treating migrant workers as real human beings and not just tools at their
disposal. This will not be as easy said than done as the dehumanization of migrant
workers is deeply rooted in the region’s history.

I believe that an effective way of welcoming migrant workers into Kuwaiti culture
is to first apologize for the wrongdoings that have previously gone on and admit to
things that may not have even been publicized. This will create a vulnerable state for the country and its citizens emotionally, which will be a struggle but also the perfect
place to start improving. Another way I think the negative preconceptions about migrant
workers can be altered is by gratitude and not just guilt and apologies. Gratitude is a
powerful emotion and often also makes us feel more connected. Migrant workers in
Kuwait largely populate various industries like oil, construction, domestic, cleaners, and
transportation. Kuwait would not survive without many of these industries, but working
these jobs is difficult. These are jobs that nationals do not want to do, so migrant
workers do them for very little pay and in very uncomfortable or even unlivable
conditions. Listen to their story, learn something new, and cherish that knowledge as
you would from somebody you value highly. This will break down the barriers between
Kuwaiti nationals and migrant workers in the short and long term, giving migrant workers
the voice that they so desperately need. If only an act of appreciation made it back to
the migrant workers that they deserve, I believe some empathy may help spark a
change. It makes it hard to help and treat people properly if you don’t see them as
people and ignore their contributions to society.

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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