Gentrification and Xenophobia in the Gulf
Everyday, the Kuwaiti press publishes statements and reports coming from the interior ministry, meant to comfort their citizens: “We have arrested illegal immigrants” in this or that area, they say. These illegal immigrants were termed “illegal” once they left their employers, in an effort to escape exploitation, enslavement, sexual, physical and verbal abuse.
There is nothing groundbreaking in calling the migrant worker situation in the Gulf a clear example of modern slavery. State laws endow sponsors with complete control over the destinies of workers. This power granted to “citizens” necessarily produces corruption and the exploitation of others. To this very day, Gulf states fight against changing these unjust laws. They use cultural relativism to justify their resistance, saying, “Our traditions and religion do not allow us to let those housemaids live on their own!”
The issue of migrant workers in the Gulf is loaded with horrific stories of abuse and suicide, reported daily in the news. The way in which stories are reported, alone, stands as sufficient evidence of the racism and xenophobia that states practice, in their approach to migrant workers. They make sure to portray migrant workers as people at fault, or as ignorant and filthy, in order to deny audience sympathy and have it replaced with xenophobia.
There are numerous examples of reports in print and on TV that demonstrate the persecution of migrant workers in the Gulf. They are accused of abusing children and practicing “black magic” when, in reality, they are only victims of daily abuse. Saudi Arabia banned Indonesians, and Kuwait banned Bengalis. Why, do they say? Because they are too problematic; they object – they are not good slaves! Of course, that is not the official reason, because no official reasons are given.
Bahrain stands as a representative example of a country where this hate against migrant workers runs rampant. For Bahraini citizens, the first image that comes to mind at the mention of a migrant worker, is of someone who “looks” like they are from anywhere in South Asia.
In the Bahraini example, South Asians are either employed in the army, police and intelligence; or, they are underpaid workers with hard labor jobs. South Asians belonging to the law enforcement and military teams enflame xenophobic feelings among Bahrainis opposed to the regime and its political crimes; the hard laboring employees pay the price for this hate.
Some Bahrainis have spoken out about how migrant workers acted in sympathy with the citizens and how helpful they were, especially when the country was under emergency law in March 2011. However, this is not the picture that is promoted.
Several migrant workers have been killed in the last two years. Those opposing the current government accuse the regime of killing migrants in order to defame the revolution and provoke tensions, while the government accuses the “Shia” of taking revenge on the regime by killing workers.
Another example of xenophobia in the Gulf is afforded by the latest wave of gentrification in Kuwait. The Jleeb al-Shuyookh area is home to crime-filled ghettos, black market and expired food stalls, prostitution, residences of illegal workers, and so on. It is basically a workers’ escape from the unaffordable Kuwaiti hell. Kuwaitis have been calling for the demolition of this area because, it does not show off the country’s “civilized face.” They also want to use the land to build houses, since it is better placed on the map than many new and up-and-coming areas.
The Kuwaiti government is done waiting and has started the job; absolutely no one is speaking out against the demolition of this living space. Apparently, the so-called NGOs in and outside Kuwait do not see anything criminal in demolishing an entire area, specifically one where the working-class survive. The residents there often make less than 200 US dollars per month, have to support their families, and live with several others to secure housing. Now the state wants to pull them back into their Kuwaiti hell.
There is no escape, and they are expected to leave their jobs and live in-house with a master, as slaves. Civilization needs to be visible, everywhere; but only in concrete buildings, not in human rights.