Pandemic Diaries: Human trafficking

By Jamie Etheridge

The government amnesty offered to residency violators living in Kuwait illegally wrapped up registrations on Thursday, with unofficial counts indicating that more than 23,000 individuals signed up to be deported. Around 20,000 of these people remain in detention camps in Kuwait, their home countries refusing to allow them to return home.

Imagine wanting to go home but being prevented from doing so. Imagine being stuck abroad, even if it were the most beautiful place on earth, and missing your family back home. In times of crisis, it is our natural inclination to want to go home.

Home can be a tricky concept. For most people, home is the place where they grew up, the place where their parents and other immediate family members still reside. This doesn’t hold true for everyone. Home can be people rather than place. It can be more than one place. And for a few, home is wherever they are.

During a pandemic, people want security. They want to feel safe and in a place where survival is possible. For those seeking amnesty, Kuwait become untenable when the economy shut down and people started losing their jobs.

The number may seem small – 23,000 is suspected to be only a fraction of the number of people living here illegally. Tens of thousands are thought to have been brought by visa traders, human traffickers profiting from desperate jobseekers.

Those who have registered to go home are lucky – at least they have a place to live and food to eat. Those who are now jobless, illegal and locked inside the isolated areas of Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and Mahboula are facing a desperate situation. Although the government is trying to manage, the reality is that there are simply too many people living here illegally, working menial jobs and just trying to survive.

The situation shows in stark contrast the reality that Kuwait must change. Allowing large numbers of foreign labor, especially unskilled labor without real jobs, to be imported creates a nightmare scenario for the workers and for the government. It leads to an overburdening of the government’s healthcare system and bureaucracies and fuels petty crime, poor living conditions and illicit employment.

Lawmakers are now calling for change and hopefully there will be real efforts to stop human trafficking, but for those stuck here – both the ones waiting for the chance to go home and those still living illegally – the change can’t come fast enough.

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