2018: Foreign Workers Residence Building Collapses over Anti-Trafficking Propaganda
2019-01-31 - 5:28 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Bahrain has used the foreign labor issue as a cosmetic product to cover up the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. There has; however, been no real change in the conditions of this category of residents despite Washington's award granted to its ally in this field.
In April 2018, US Ambassador to Bahrain, Justin Hicks Siberell, met with head of the Labor Market Regulatory Authority, Osama Al-Absi, and hailed the investigations carried out in a number of cases related to human trafficking, besides the efforts exerted to train officials on mechanisms of dealing with victims.
It is clear that the US supports uncompleted efforts to stop human trafficking. It is delighted by investigations into limited cases yet ignores a whole market based on the trafficking of workers and women. It praises ending the sponsorship system, but welcomes referring it to the government through flexible work permits.
On June 27, 2018, the US State Department honored the Chief Executive Officer of the Labor Market Authority, Chairman of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, after Bahrain "reached Tier 1" in combating trafficking in persons. He was later received by the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on August 29, 2018, who was very pleased with his accomplishment.
According to official data issued by the Authority, the US honor award was based on the flexible work permits, a system, by which the foreign worker buys two-year residence from the government for 449 dinars per month for two years. A system that simply transfers the exploitation of cheap labor from "visa dealers" to the government.
It was clear that the motives behind the project were not rights-related or organizational but rather financial. It is a process that exploits the workers' need to stay in the Bahraini market in return for collecting fees. Depending on the nature of the skills the workers enjoy, the government's fees are considered high, which may expose them to more exploitation when attempting to secure the necessary sums.
Bahrain wanted to grant flexible permits to 24,000 per year in the hopes that it would earn 56 million and 640,000 dinars within two years from this cheap labor, without answering central questions about whether the labor market accommodates this amount? What are the living conditions of these unskilled workers? How will they secure these huge fees and under what circumstances? Will they resort to violating other laws in the country in order to be able to pay these financial obligations?
The US State Department did not ask these questions before its ally was honored. The Authority did not respond to these inquiries, but the answer to the consequences of this devastating project on both the economic and humanitarian levels came with the collapse of a building in the capital Manama, which was home to more than 100 migrant workers.
Four lost their lives as a result of this incident, and dozens were wounded, some with serious injuries, but fortunately not all the residents were inside the building at the time of the accident. The building is no more than 120 square meters. Its walls were dilapidated and it lacked the most basic services. This large number of poverty-stricken migrant workers were being stacked in this building, while the government stole their earnings.
The US award was telling Bahrain: We ranked you in tier 1 in the fields of protecting the rights of migrant workers and combating human trafficking. You are doing what you have to do. However, Bahrain understands this message as follows: Gain money from these destitute people and continue to pile them up over each other in old, dilapidated buildings, even if they were 100 human souls, as long as Washington is satisfied.
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