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Workers’ cry for help highlights visa trafficking problem in Kuwait

KUWAIT: Large numbers of domestic helpers in Kuwait experience various problems with their sponsors that may sometimes go as far as having them immediately deported without them even getting paid. The problem also transcends those who work in their employers’ households, as it also affects a sizeable number of laborers who came to Kuwait on ‘Article 20’ visas given to domestic helpers which they had paid visa traffickers to obtain.
In this regard, a number of Asian laborers told local Arabic daily Al-Qabas that they came to Kuwait on domestic helper visas while in reality they do other jobs and live far from their sponsors’ houses, noting that they struggle daily just to make enough money to pay up to KD 1,000 which each of them had borrowed to obtain a visa to work in Kuwait.
“The problem does not only lie in the fact that sponsors do not have jobs for us, but some of them do not pay our monthly salaries,” said some helpers, noting that they have no protection except from the domestic helpers department, which usually investigates the matter then takes proper action to get them paid and deported. “However, we usually remain on the street until the complaint is attended to,” they added.

Prime suspects
Further, the workers said that they usually come to Kuwait and are left to find jobs on their own as porters or constructions workers, getting paid KD 5-7 daily while taking the risk of being arrested by inspection teams and deported for violating residency laws. “Deportation is a real problem as we always remain the prime suspect, while sponsors refuse to answer when we call them,” the workers added, pointing out the problems they face when they want to transfer their residency visas.
Visa traffickers often target laborers seeking to work in the oil-rich Gulf region, and offer to ‘sell’ them visas for prices that range between KD 500 and KD 1,000 for a one-year visa, which they have to pay again annually for renewal. Workers in that case are mostly uninformed about Kuwait’s regulations that bans transferring a domestic helper’s visa into an ‘Article 18’ visa for private sector employees. “Before referring the arrested ones among us for fingerprints pending deportation, Kuwaiti authorities are ought to question those who brought us to Kuwait in the first place. They should allow us to transfer to other sponsors instead of deporting us,” one worker lamented.
Notably, statistics showed that 21 of those who were issued visas as domestic helpers hold PhD degrees, in addition to one with a Master’s degree which they had to disregard only to come to Kuwait using the first available visas. In addition, governmental statistics also revealed that contrary to popular belief, 53 percent of domestic helper visa holders in Kuwait are actually males, hired as drivers, chefs and other works.

Labor protection
In the meantime, Minister of State for Economic Affairs Mariam Al-Aqeel hailed the Public Authority for Manpower’s role to provide all forms of protection and support to laborers experiencing problems with their sponsors. Aqeel explained that special teams comprising 34 employees were formed to deal with domestic helpers’ affairs and follow up all related issues at the administrative support, domestic helpers disputes, inspection and license registration departments. She also noted that the teams are responsible to protect sponsors rights.
Further, Aqeel stressed that ever since establishing the domestic helpers department three months earlier, it managed, through amicable agreements with accounts and application owners, to put an end to social media ads offering domestic helpers ‘for sale’ or transfer, and refer violators to the criminal investigation’s human trafficking division.
In addition, Aqeel said responding to a BBC report, Kuwait had recently returned a housemaid who turned out to be a minor to her country and subjecting the involved domestic labor office to legal actions and suspension. “A total of 44 domestic helper offices were suspended as of June,” she underlined, noting that the financial guarantees deposited by violating offices are sometimes liquidated to pay for either laborers or employers, protect their rights and refer helpers who refuse work to labor shelters pending deportation.
Statistically, Aqeel explained that there are the total of 426 domestic helper offices in Kuwait, adding that the department had received 1,224 complaints of which 490 were so far solved, while 100 were referred to court. She also said that the total of domestic helpers in Kuwait is 717,628, according to Interior Ministry registers.
“Kuwait has always been keen on solving domestic helper problems with sponsors and providing special accommodation for female helpers,” Aqeel emphasized, noting that a 5,000-square-meter piece of land has been allocated in South Subahiya to build a female labor shelter, while the existing shelter in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh would be allocated for male laborers.
The minister further noted that 335 female laborers have been admitted to the Jleeb female laborers’ shelter from April 1, 2019 to July 9, 2019, adding that 194 of them have already left the country. “The majority of those were Filipinas with 171 cases, of whom 94 have already left, followed by 80 Indians, 57 Sri Lankans and a minority of Bangladeshis,” Aqeel explained.

Labor residence
In a related issue, Kuwait Municipality Director Ahmad Al-Manfouhi met with Interior Ministry and manpower authority officials to discuss putting into effect a cabinet decision made in 2016 concerning mandating contractors to provide temporary prefabricated accommodations for workers within government projects’ sites. “The manpower authority will monitor contractors to make sure this resolution is put in practice, while the Interior Ministry will provide security,” Manfouhi explained.
Meanwhile, Municipal Council member Maha Al-Baghli said that many private residential areas are currently suffering from the spread of ‘bachelor residents’ renting apartments illegally there, noting that it has become a vital necessity to build more labor cities to absorb all workers. Municipal Council member Abdul Salam Al-Randi stressed that labor cities must be comfortable and match UN specifications. “Laborers and bachelors’ reluctance to reside in labor cities proves that the current ones do not provide such services and facilities,” he underlined.

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