Middle East


Regional Trends

There were a total of 2.5 million migrant domestic workers in the Middle East region as of 2013,¹ with specific numbers fluctuating in different countries but with an overall increasing trend. The "Middle East" consists of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon, and the majority of the migrant domestic workers employed in these countries are women from Asian and African countries such as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Kenya and Ethiopia.² The countries of the Middle East region receive a large fraction of global migrant domestic workers, due to the historically small populations and labor shortages, combined with relatively high incomes since the 1960s.³

Regional Challenges

Despite the large numbers of migrant domestic workers that the Middle East region employs, the region is also the subject of several criticisms regarding the human rights of this vulnerable group. The table below from a policy report on the GCC region details the extremely limited legal protections that this group enjoys in the various Middle East countries.

Several other issues in the region conflate the problems enabled by this lack of legal protections. Several Middle Eastern countries do not allow freedom of association. This makes it difficult for migrant domestic workers to get help from labor unions, and limits the resources that exist for those who encounter problems to reach out to during their time in their receiving countries.

The Kafala system is a visa sponsorship system in which employers have extreme control over their employees, putting migrant domestic workers at risk of exploitation and abuse.

Sources

  1. Malit, J., Froilan, & Ghafoor, S. (2014). Domestic Work Legislation in the Gulf Countries: A Comparative Policy Review. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.32072.52483.
  2. COVID-19 Impact on Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the Middle East | ALNAP. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.alnap.org/help-library/covid-19-impact-on-female-migrant-domestic-workers-in-the-middle-east
  3. Malit, J., Froilan, & Ghafoor, S. (2014). Domestic Work Legislation in the Gulf Countries: A Comparative Policy Review. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.32072.52483.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Freedom of Association: Recent Developments Regarding the “Neglected Right.” (n.d.). ICNL. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.icnl.org/resources/research/ijnl/freedom-of-association-recent-developments-regarding-the-neglected-right