Activist denounces anti-expat campaign
‘We cannot be a humanitarian center and practice racism’
KUWAIT: A Kuwaiti human rights activist demanded measures to be taken against those who spread hate speech in light of the increasing wave of xenophobic rhetoric in the official and unofficial domains as of late.
“Immigrant workers suffer from racist governmental decisions and lawmakers’ statements regarding [Kuwait’s] demographic structure,” said Khalid Al-Humaidi, Chairman of the Board of Kuwait Society for Human Rights (KRCS). “These remarks and measures violate international charters.” He mentioned allocating the new Jaber Hospital for Kuwaiti patients only, increasing public health fees collected from expatriates and introducing new conditions for dependency visas as “human rights violations,” and refused the notion that foreigners are using up resources or taking opportunities away from nationals.
Humaidi’s remarks, published by Al-Rai yesterday, came at a time in which anti-expatriate sentiments are dominating the political scene and have been on the rise socially as well. The oil and social affairs ministers have especially come under fire in parliament over claims of expatriates’ hiring in the public and petroleum sectors at a time in which more than 14,800 Kuwaitis remain unemployed as of April 20, 2017 according to Central Statistical Bureau figures.
Though Kuwaitis make up around 73 percent of manpower in the public sector, their numbers in the private sector are at a modest 4.5 percent. When comparing the disparity in the private sector between the average monthly salary of Kuwaiti manpower (KD 1,402) and the average monthly salary of foreign labor (KD 269), it becomes easier to understand from a financial standpoint why privatelyowned companies rely heavily on foreign laborers.
This heavy reliance on the cheaper foreign manpower is often blamed for causing an imbalance in the state’s demographic structure: nearly 70 percent out of Kuwait’s population of around 4,481,000 are foreigners. The government has failed for years to formulate an effective way to drive national labor away from the more lucrative, less demanding public sector job and towards the more challenging, less rewarding private sector job. Meanwhile, national manpower in the public sector are expected to increase after a recent Civil Service Commission decision to ‘Kuwaitize’ jobs in state departments by 85 to 100 percent within five years.
Most of the criticisms regarding the increase in the number of foreign laborers are based on the idea that Kuwait’s labor market has a surplus in ‘unproductive workers.’ However, Humaidi does not agree with this notion and believes that all foreigners living in Kuwait should be treated equally. “Immigrant workers should not be handled according to interest, or categorized as ‘useful’ or ‘non-useful’ workers,” he said, notably choosing to avoid the widely-used Arabic term ‘wafed,’ which roughly translates to ‘newcomer,’ to refer to expatriates. “The ‘citizen and noncitizen’ perspective is a form of racial discrimination that is not appropriate with Kuwait’s status as a humanitarian center.”
“As long as there is racially-charged discrimination against immigrants, we might as well call for deporting all workers without discrimination,” Humaidi argued ironi- cally. “This could be the best way to protect their rights instead of the repeated instigations against them, and to avoid damaging Kuwait’s reputation as a country that mistreats its immigrant community.”
Administrative deportation is another form of human rights violations that expatriates in Kuwait are subjected to, and which violates the international law, according to Humaidi. “Some workers were deported after they protested not being paid for three months by companies contracted with state departments,” he said.
Around 13,000 expatriates were deported during the first half of this year, according to KRCS statistics, with an average of 86 persons a day. The society also detected 56 cases of racism practiced against foreigners and reported in the local media from January through June, including 37.5 percent committed by National Assembly members and 26.8 percent by the Interior Ministry.
“We believe that these procedures do not provide any solutions, but instead feed more hate sentiments among nationals towards immigrant laborers,” Al-Humaidi argued. He also referred to the ‘Best and Worst Places for Expats in 2017’ report which was released recently by InterNations’ Expat Insider, and ranked Kuwait in the bottom three for the fourth consecutive year.
“What is happening to immigrants in Kuwait makes the problem even more complicated instead of solving it, especially since the world is watching what is happening here,” he said. “This puts us in an embarrassing situation. We cannot be a humanitarian center and practice racism towards expatriates at the same time.”
KUWAIT: This file photo shows Asian housemaids wait at an office for domestic workers at a commercial complex in Kuwait City. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat