Ac­tivist de­nounces anti-ex­pat cam­paign

‘We can­not be a hu­man­i­tar­ian cen­ter and prac­tice racism’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Staff Re­porter

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.

Un­pro­duc­tive work­ers

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

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