Voices from the Field: Real Stories of Migrant Workers in Kuwait

By: Zaya Stas

In the vibrant cities, bustling construction sites, and even within the homes of many Kuwaitis,
there are unsung heroes whose contributions shape the fabric of the nation’s growth and
development. These incredible individuals are none other than the migrant workers who bravely
leave their homelands in pursuit of better opportunities and a brighter future for their loved ones.
They are the silent driving force behind Kuwait’s flourishing economy, lending their skills,
unwavering dedication, and remarkable resilience to propel the nation forward. Each day, amidst
the whirlwind of activity, these migrant workers bring life to Kuwait’s bustling streets and
soaring skyscrapers. Yet, their stories, filled with struggles and triumphs, often go unnoticed or
unheard amidst the broader conversations surrounding their labour.

In December 2008, Al Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper, shared a collection of testimonies in Arabic
from migrant workers in Kuwait, outlining their experiences and the injustices they had endured.
This blog post aims to translate and shed light on these real stories of migrant workers to allow
English speakers to understand their experiences, amplify their voices, foster empathy, and
finally build bridges of understanding. These real stories provide a glimpse into the lives of
individuals like Sally, Yatima, and Maharta, whose lives have been profoundly affected by the
challenges they faced while working in Kuwait. Each tale represents a unique struggle, a
personal battle against exploitation, mistreatment, and the denial of fundamental human rights.
By immersing in their narratives, a greater appreciation for their resilience is gained while
simultaneously confronting the harsh realities they have confronted.

Sally, a migrant worker in Kuwait, has worked as a domestic worker for six months in four
different households without getting paid. Sally came to Kuwait with the dream of buying land
for cultivation. Instead, Sally says she missed her family and never wants to return to work as the
owner of the offices was the only sole beneficiary of her wages. If Sally refused to work in other
houses, she was subjected to torture by the office staff, who would use electricity as a torture
method to force her to work. Due to these inhumane circumstances, Sally could escape to her
country’s embassy and travel back to her homeland, where she got to see her children after her
dream of buying land was shattered.

Sally’s story echoes the heartbreaking reality faced by numerous domestic workers who endure
the unimaginable: working tirelessly without receiving their rightful wages. Among them is
Yatima, a resilient domestic worker who dedicated three long years of her life to labour in
Kuwait, holding on to a dream of owning her own home. Promising to save her salary, her
sponsor gave her hope that she and her husband would finally have a place to call their own. As
the months went by, Yatima’s anticipation grew, and she envisioned the day when she would hold
the keys to her dream house. However, their world shattered when her husband courageously
asked for the money they were promised. Yatima’s sponsor, instead of fulfilling their
commitment, engaged in a cycle of delay and procrastination, prolonging the agony and
disappointment for months on end. Finally, unable to bear the betrayal any longer, Yatima boldly
decided to escape from her sponsor’s grip and demand the wages she rightfully deserved. It was a
leap of faith toward reclaiming her dignity and seeking justice for the injustices she had endured.

Finally, Maharta Suleiman arrived in Kuwait with a worker contract obtained through a domestic
labour agency. Maharta says that within a month of her arrival, she was “sold” to a household to
work as a mid, earning a monthly salary of fifty Dinars. Maharta was expected to work nineteen
hours inside the house without breaks, accompanied by constant humiliation, verbal abuse, and
physical violence from her sponsor. Her sponsor would beat her for no reason and lock her in a
bathroom without explanation.

In conclusion, these stories of migrant workers in Kuwait, shared by Al Rai in 2008 and
reiterated here, underscore the significance of listening to the voices of migrant workers,
acknowledging their hardships, and advocating for their rights. It is imperative that we listen to
their voices, recognize their struggles, and work towards a fairer and more compassionate
society. Unfortunately, exploitative practices and broken commitments overshadow their
struggles and dreams. It is a reminder of the urgent need for better protections, stricter
enforcement of labour laws, and a genuine commitment to ensuring the rights and dignity of all
workers.

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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