Portrayal of the ‘other’: Migrant workers are patronised, marginalised, vilified
Almost daily there is international coverage on the plight of migrant workers in Qatar and the region. These articles detail the inhumane living and working conditions they endure. While it is important that this issue gets due attention, too often these men and women are portrayed as nameless, poor, hapless, downtrodden people, denying them any respectable identity. Their individual and unique journeys to working in Qatar are undocumented, their personal stories are ignored.
They are seen as the “other” in Qatar – a ‘minority’ (even if they outnumber the privileged) who do not enjoy the same standards of living as the rest of the country. While the rest of Qatar’s more affluent populace enjoy the benefits of living in the richest country in the world, these workers are classified into a large umbrella group, and labelled ‘worker or labourer’. This leads to condescension and stereotyping, more than respect or empathy.
This patronisation of workers in Qatar takes many forms. There are many good-intentioned people who give away leftovers to workers. But the fact remains that these are leftovers. Why not buy the security guards in your building a box of pizza?
Box appeals to whom?
“Why are these workers in situations where they need donated combs and toothbrushes that cost QR3 or QR5?”
Another form of patronisation plays out on a much larger scale, at the corporate level. Probably the most ‘organised’ form of this is the Box Appeal. The Radisson Blu Hotel’s ‘Box Appeal’ means well, and aims to provide low-income workers with amenities to improve their lives. The appeal asks for donations of toothpaste, combs, toothbrushes, caps and similar items. Last year this was organised by Msheireb properties, a prominent employer of thousands of construction workers. While these initiatives are executed in good faith, it’s a sad reflection of the bigger picture.
Why are these workers in situations where they need donated combs and toothbrushes that cost QR3 or QR5? Increase their wages, and stop pay discrimination based on nationality. It’s a lot easier to see people as victims, and not see the cause of their problems. Not to mention, it also functions as an effective PR tool to portray the goodness and seeming benevolence of a corporate entity.[boxify cols_use =”1″ cols =”2″ position =”right” order =”none” box_spacing =”10″ padding =”10″ background_color =”#3c3c3c” border_style =”solid” ]
Profile of a “worker”
About 1000 low-income workers in Qatar were surveyed, in an exercise organised by Dr Andrew Gardner and Qatar University’s SESRI unit.
Over 72% were married
With the average number of children per worker standing at 2.4
Though 93% were literate in their own language,
About 32% spoke some level of English.
That’s who they are, and this is how they are treated:
About 90% were not in possession of their passports
7% did not have valid residence permits and only 56% have mandated government health cards, which are both responsibilities of the company.
And 21% of them said their salaries are “sometimes, rarely or never” received on time.
The problems caused by the issues stated above are what ‘charity’ campaigns try to alleviate. Unfortunately, it only serves as a salve for a preventable wound, and doesn’t seek to rectify the situation.[/boxify]
Keeping them out
On the one hand they are to be pitied, and on the other, they are seen as a threat. A scan of the newspapers in the region reveals appalling stories of murder, robbery gangs and drug smuggling. These ‘others’ are seen as disruptive people, who do not respect the local culture and cause many societal problems. They are seen as unable to assimilate to customs, and instead infiltrate existing traditions with their own. The Gulf countries have found various ways to combat this perceived existential threat caused by the others. The residential areas of these workers tend to be on the outskirts of the city (Industrial Area in Qatar or Sonapur in Dubai). The Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning in Qatar has been enforcing a law that stipulates construction workers’ accommodation sites to not be located in residential areas. However, an exception was made wherein, their accommodation sites can be located in areas where expatriates live as long as they are “hundred percent sure that the area concerned has no Qatari family” living there.
Then there are the infamous ‘family days.’ On weekends, popular malls and souqs used to be out of bounds for single men. Now these rules are less enforced, but still common. The rationale was to ‘protect’ families (or more specifically, the women) from harassment. While they were to prevent single males from entering an area, in practice, it was almost exclusively low-income workers from South Asia who were not allowed into the malls.
This video highlights how these rules were enforced. The security guards were of course only following instructions mandated by the management.
Other malls had similar policies; with Hyatt Plaza officials stating “bad smelling and poorly dressed men” are not allowed in the premises. According to Villaggio officials, the reasons behind these rules were to prevent “bachelors from harassing girls.”
While there maybe an odd case of “bachelors” harassing girls, these workers are mostly responsible family men, as the infographic data (box) clearly shows. They have taken a big risk migrating to an unknown land, and simply cannot afford to create trouble here. It has cost them a large amount of money to secure these jobs, and have left their loved ones behind to help raise their children in conditions better than they had to endure.