New report suggests improving conditions for migrants to make amnesties more useful

The countries of origin and the Gulf nations should improve working conditions for migrant workers and also minimize the factors that push them into irregular status, says a new report by the Solidarity Center and Migrant-Rights.org.

This report examines the design and implementation of 19 amnesties in Gulf Cooperation Council countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, from 2004 to 2018 recommends for the GCC governments to coordinate and communicate with embassies of the workers sending countries at least four weeks in advance of amnesties to make more useful.

The report also recommends the GCC governments to communicate clearly with irregular migrants and paying special attention to domestic workers.

Major recommendations of the report include eliminating requirement for sponsor permission, resolving pending labor disputes, reducing costs, suspending detention of irregular migrants during amnesty periods, providing accommodation other than non-voluntary detention centers, allowing adequate time, investigating absent and abusive sponsors and providing transparent, easy-to-access data. 

For countries of origin the Solidarity Center and Migrant-Rights.org report suggests centralizing amnesty procedures in one location, supporting labor dispute resolution, informing workers of their rights and options, explaining return process, establishing mobile consular services, authorizing consulates to provide emergency travel certificates and providing reintegration programs for returning workers.

Over the past 30 years, each of the GCC countries has periodically launched amnesty campaigns to regularize or facilitate the exit of irregular migrant workers.

Amnesties allow migrants to regularize their legal status or leave the country with fewer penalties than they would normally incur.

These campaigns are commonly portrayed as a ‘gift’ to erring migrant workers and fail to acknowledge that many migrants do not become undocumented out of choice, but because the labour migration system pushes migrants into an irregular status. 

The report concludes that GCC governments should implement amnesties more effectively and with greater adherence to human rights standards.

Campaigns designed and implemented to address the injustices produced by the overarching migration system are more likely to result in a higher amnesty turnout and better achieve their stated aims, says the report.

The GCC countries are characterized by a majority migrant workforce, tied to their employer-sponsors through kefala.

However, for workers whose sponsors fail to renew work visas or for workers who are duped by fake jobs in the recruitment process or who land in untenable and abusive situations, workers “face a series of narrow, unenviable choices and are systematically denied freedoms enshrined in international human rights law,” says the report, Faulty Fixes: A Review of Recent Amnesties in the Gulf and Recommendations for Improvement.

In fact, the report adds: “Migrant workers who are unable to legally leave their job, or leave the country in some cases, are vulnerable to a range of abuses including occupational safety and health violations and gender-based violence as well as non-payment of wages and other forms of forced labor.”

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