Also spelled as kefala system, the term literally translates to sponsorship system. This is a practice mostly prevalent throughout the middle east. Under the system migrant laborers need a sponsor who is a local of the country, in order to enter the country on a work visa and ply their trade. The practice happens to be most rampant in the domestic and construction sectors.
Following in the footsteps of Qatar’s recent declaration of the scraping of the kafala system, Kuwaiti rights groups have began a movement to promote the government into abolishing the kafala system present in the country. Long been criticized by the global press as being an excuse to tie down bonded labor and even introduce slavery in some instances, the Kuwait Association for the Fundamentals of Human Rights as sought to end this debacle once and for all. They call for immediate abolishment and replacement with rules in adherence with International practices. Among the myriad abuses, the worst possible is the inability of a worker to migrate to a new job before their contract runs out. They can only do this if their sponsor agrees and this leads to severe abuse in some cases.
Another key area where the rights group hopes to introduce change is the administrative deportation of foreign workers in hordes. This is conducted by the interior ministry every single year and the rights group aims at stopping this because no foreigner should be deported from the country with an order from the court. Further, foreigners are segregated even at public health centres and even at times depending on their exact nationality.
“All across the world, such treatment of human beings will be looked up as racial, discriminatory and immoral – which is why the Kafala system needs to be scratched as soon as possible” – said a senior activist for the rights group.
The growth in racial discrimination rampaging through the country is evidence enough of the harm the kafala system has done. It is a language of hatred that the government is promoting by not banning the denigrated system. Take for instance, the government’s recent crackdown and eventual arrest of bloggers who spoke out on the freedom of expression. The need for legal and humanitarian solutions is on the rise and for nearly 120,000 stateless individuals who are collectively called the bedoons in the country, the need for even basic human rights is a serious concern.
One Sure Insurance, a leading UK insurance broker, commented with, “The Bedoons are actually individuals who have been born in Kuwait and were raised here. They can stake claim to Kuwaiti citizenship but the government refuses to give them such a status saying that only a handful of them are legitimate concerns whereas the rest are from other nationalities.”
At least some things are changing. The goverrnment’s decision to set up a human rights body across the nation, issuing special laws in favor of domestic help, these are baby steps but the government still has to take the drastic action of abolishing the kafala. At least, Kuwait recently became the first nation among all Gulf states to set a government minimum wage for all daily workers. This has led the US State Department to move Kuwait from Tier Three (worst) to Tier Two in its Trafficking in Persons watch list.