Kuwait - Migrants domestic workers abused (2012)

There are around 650 - 700,000 migrant domestic workers in Kuwait, the majority of them females from South East Asia. Reports of widespread abuse and ill treatment continue to emerge regularly, as do reports of the failings of the Kuwait authorities to properly investigate, monitor and address the issues. Foreign domestic workers, along with local domestic workers and drivers are excluded from the labour law and are vulnerable to abuse because of the lack of effective legal remedies. In 2011, some 300 Sri Lankan Foreign domestic workers sought refuge in the Sri Lankan Embassy over disputes with employers and were expected to leave the country once their disputes with their sponsors are settled and obtained their passports and air tickets.

In 2009, embassies in Kuwait received more than 10,000 complaints from domestic workers about unpaid wages, long working hours and physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Many domestic workers in Kuwait who try to escape abusive employers face criminal charges for "absconding” and in most cases are deported even if they have been abused and seek redress. Kuwait, which has the highest ratio of domestic workers to citizens in the Middle East, announced on 26 September 2010, that it would abolish the sponsorship system in February 2011, and replace the employer-based system with a government-administered recruitment authority. No details were given on what legal protections would be added for migrant workers. However, the new Labour Code does ban companies in the private sector and oil sector from holding workers’ passports and stipulates fines for such behaviour. The new law excluded domestic workers as does the abolition of the sponsorship system.

In July, a report from the UN called for urgent improvements in the promotion and protection of the rights of foreign domestic workers in Kuwait. The report stated that many domestic workers complain of confinement to the house, long working hours without rest, months or years of unpaid wages and sometimes verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Most employers retain passports and other documentation. Some efforts had been made by the Ministry of the Interior to deal with forced labour and trafficking, including an increase in efforts to prosecute, punish, and stringently sentence traffickers, particularly sponsors who force domestic workers into involuntary servitude and the shutting down of fraudulent labour recruiting agencies, as well as the termination of licences for recruiting companies that did not meet regulations set in the February 2010 Private Sector Labour Law. However, many serious issues remain.

On 10 March, three Kuwaiti sponsors and two policemen tortured to death an unidentified Asian man. The Kuwaiti sponsors captured and “mercilessly beat” the man and then handed him over to the police, accusing him of setting fire to and robbing their farms. During his “interrogation” by the police, the worker collapsed and died. The Kuwaiti men and the policemen are being questioned by police about the incident. On the same day an unidentified traffic officer locked an Asian migrant man for four hours inside his patrol car, badly beating him and ‘throwing’ him on the street. In another case an Indonesian domestic worker was found having jumped to her death from a building with cigarette burns on her body. According to the police, the woman jumped from the sixth floor after suffering sexual and physical at the hands of two Kuwaiti brothers. Reports of similar cases of abuse from both employers and police are common, especially concerning foreign domestic workers from south Asia and Ethiopia. In June, Cambodian recruitment agencies put a ban in place on the potential sending of domestic workers to Kuwait after numerous complaints of abuse.

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