This week, the Philippines announced it would investigate reports of worker abuse in Saudi Arabia, while last month, Ethiopia imposed a six-month ban on its workers traveling to Saudia Arabia, citing worsening labor conditions. In an email interview, Zahra Babar, assistant director for research at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s school of foreign service in Qatar, explained efforts to address the conditions of migrant workers in the Persian Gulf states.
WPR: What are the main countries of origin for migrant labor in the Gulf states, and what industries do they work in?
Zahra Babar: Current estimates suggest that there are close to 12 million foreign workers employed across the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Obtaining accurate breakdowns disaggregated by nationality for Gulf-based migrants is no easy task due to poor migrant-tracking mechanisms in both sending and receiving states, and because such information is considered by the host countries to be sensitive and is not often publicly disclosed. Data that does exist suggest that migrants originate primarily from the South Asian countries of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In addition to South Asian labor, the GCC states now draw increasingly large numbers of workers from sub-Saharan Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and other parts of the Middle East. Much of this foreign labor force works in unskilled and low-paid positions in the construction and service sectors. Skilled and professional positions are occupied by expatriates typically of Middle Eastern, European and North American origin.