Updated: Nov 13, 2021
As a half Pakistani person, I’ve experienced my fair share of racial slurs, discrimination, and prejudice from Qataris while living here. My peers never let me forget that my mother’s native language, clothing, and cultural practices were inherently inferior to theirs and that they associated my South Asian heritage with being poor, uneducated, and uncivilized. But as a half Qatari person, it’s also important to acknowledge how I still have a great deal of privilege in society relative to other South Asian people who face far worse discrimination than I do. These are a few important lessons I’ve learned over the years on how to combine my personal experiences with my privilege and social status to try and change how we as Qataris interact with migrant laborers in this country and throughout the Persian Gulf.
Acknowledge that there’s actually a problem with how we treat migrant workers
Despite several reports by Amnesty International and the United Nations, it’s surprising to learn just how many Qataris are in denial over how our treatment of migrant workers is nothing short of modern day slavery. Whether it’s because of sheer privilege or willful ignorance, bringing this gap between Qatari people’s misconceptions and the harsh reality of how migrant workers live and work is the first step. As obvious as it sounds, in order to solve a problem we must first acknowledge that the problem exists and that begins with understanding the inherent flaws of the kafala system.
Educate yourself on migrant workers’ working and living conditions
Make use of online resources like this interactive infographic by Migrant-Rights.org and read books or reports which detail human rights abuses against migrant workers in Qatar. The best way to challenge our collective denial and systemic exploitation of migrant labor is to use undisputable facts to change our own perceptions first and acknowledge the scale of the problem.
Evaluate how you treat migrant workers who you regularly interact with
There’s a good chance that you, your family, or your workplace employ some form of migrant labor, be it as a housemaid, driver, or some other type of service provider. Wherever possible, push your family and workplace to be more humane towards migrant workers. Make sure you follow fair labor practices and your country’s labor laws. Do your part in making sure that they get a fair wage (especially in relation to their country’s inflation and poverty rates), that they are allowed enough days off, that they can enjoy holidays like Christmas by going to church, and that you treat workers around you with basic kindness and manners.
Don’t let family members and friends get away with discriminatory behavior
The next time you find someone putting on an offensive Indian accent or see people around you being entertained by tasteless stereotypes of South Asian people and black people, make it clear that their behavior is xenophobic, discriminatory, and in many cases blatantly racist. It’s important to realize how stereotyping workers and reducing them to offensive caricatures is dehumanizing and prevents us from being able to effectively empathize with them or care about their struggles.
Actively speak to those around you about these issues
As Qatari people, we have an obligation to use our privilege in society when we know that others will listen to us. Qatari people are unlikely to want to hear about migrant workers’ rights abuses from non-Qatari people and will likely see it as a personal attack on themselves and their country, so it’s important for us as Qataris to hold one another accountable. Actively educate people when the issue comes up in daily conversations, post statistics about the abuse of migrant workers on social media, and do your part in raising awareness about the reality of the Gulf’s treatment of its workers whenever possible.
Appreciate the value which migrant workers add to your life
The fact that you don’t necessarily have to cook every day, drive yourself, tidy your own house, or perform other daily chores? You can thank your driver and housekeepers. The backbreaking and hazardous work it takes to build football stadiums and prepare for the 2022 World Cup? You can thank the immigrant laborers in Qatar for that. And the South Asian food, clothing, and cultural practices which Qatari people regularly appropriate? You can thank the same people who are regularly made fun of and looked down on for practicing these same cultures. Make sure to appreciate how migrant labor in Qatar makes our lives as Qataris considerably safer, easier, and more privileged.
Volunteer for an organization that advances migrant workers’ rights
Although they are few and far in between, initiatives such as the Ensaniyat Project do great work in creating educational resources and involving young people in the struggle for migrant workers’ rights. Since migrant workers aren’t allowed to unionize in Qatar and it’s nearly impossible for them to negotiate with their employers for better working conditions, it’s crucial for the wider public to become as involved as possible and make up for workers’ inability to advocate for themselves.
Ameena is a junior at Georgetown studying International Politics.