Bahrein - Violence towards migrant workers (2012)

In the midst of the political crisis, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), reported attacks on workers including migrant workers. Since 17 March, eight migrant workers have died and approximately 88 sustained various injuries. Ten Pakistanis are in a critical condition. Seven Bangladeshis have been hospitalised, three have died and four are under treatment. The murder of a Bahraini man by a Bangladeshi worker sparked angry reactions from politicians. The Bahrain government put a ban on recruitment of any further ‘untrained’ workers from Bangladesh.

Many migrants are unable to leave or unwilling to leave due to outstanding debts. Some were relocated to safer parts of Bahrain but many have remained in the middle of the conflict areas. One Sunni Bangladeshi national was reportedly attacked by Shiite demonstrators who cut off his tongue. Temporary bans were put in place by many sending countries during the protests.

Systematic violence towards migrant workers in Bahrain and south Asians in particular intensified during the protests. Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani expatriate communities were targets of widespread violence and intimidation which was further fuelled by reports of the government recruiting mercenaries from South Asian countries, in particular Pakistan. Some Bangladeshi expatriates in Bahrain say they have been forced to take part in pro-government rallies. Violent attacks have been exacerbated by the fact that Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants are predominately Sunni and seen as pro-regime by many.

Groups have also claimed that the influx of Sunni nationals from outside in the last 15 years is the government’s attempt to change the sectarian demographics of Bahrain. Reports also emerged of migrants being recruited to take the place of dismissed and striking workers in violation of the right to strike and putting migrants further at risk as they cannot easily refuse.

Over 2000 expatriates fleeing their homes sought refuge at the Pakistani embassy after attacks by protestors on their neighbourhoods. In one instance, 40 South Asians were locked in a restaurant which protestors then attempted to set on fire before being stopped by intervention from community leaders. Discriminatory legal structures such as the kafala system and the multi-tiered visa process which gives different levels of rights to individuals based on nationality further entrench xenophobic attitudes.

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