Kashmiri Women Lured Into Slavery In The United Arab Emirates

The Nikkei Asia has reported last week cases of Kashmiri women being enticed into modern-day slavery in the United Arab Emirates. The women, seeking opportunities outside the borders of a country that has been troubled by decades of conflict, travel to Dubai under the assumption that they got offered steady, decently paid jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the offers quickly reveal to be fraudulent schemes to force women into domestic work or sex trafficking. Once in the U.A.E., they are put under barbaric working hours, terrible living conditions, no wages, and no possibility of contacting the outside world. The women are stripped from their human rights and free will, and often face abuse and/or sexual violence.

This method of human trafficking is not new in the Gulf countries. Human Rights Watch already published a report on the alarming matter in 2014, stating that at the time at least 146,000 female migrant domestic workers were employed in the U.A.E. The women usually derive from conflicted areas or poverty, hunting for opportunities abroad. Recruiters fuel their hopes and dreams by offering high salaries, decent living conditions, and basic needs such as health care and days off.

The wealthy and rapidly prospering Arabian Gulf states have always attracted labour migrants. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, the U.A.E. hosts among the highest number of migrant workers in the world which reaches up to an immigrant-to-national ratio of more than 80 percent. This is for the kafala system, that appoints private employers as visa sponsors, essentially binding the employer and employee by visas. The system creates an absolute dependency on the employer, as migrant workers have no right to reside in the hosting country without their sponsorships.

The kafala system is fickle and very sensitive to fraud, for giving these women tourist visas or no papers at all puts them outside any protection by law. On top of that, the U.A.E.’s labour law mainly excludes domestic workers. A separate law was instigated for domestic work in 2017, yet it is still not uniform with the regular labour law. The Global Slavery Index reveals that the wealthier nations in the Arab states, like the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states, foresee weak security guarantees for migrant workers and take far less action to tackle inhumane working conditions than would be expected of such stable countries, whereas other countries in the Arab states region have set some protections for migrants but are too caught up in ongoing conflict.

Last week’s report on Kashmiri women demonstrates that despite several reports and calls from international organizations to put an end to modern-day slavery in the U.A.E. and other GCC states, its authorities produced limited response. A complex combination of transnational factors makes these Kashmiri women extra vulnerable to modern slavery. Civilians in Indian-administered Kashmir underwent decades of conflict, numerous deaths, and extreme cases of human rights violations. The high number of casualties left many women breadwinners of the house. Mass cases of brutal rape by Indian forces left other women displaced from their communities. In 2019, former Jammu and Kashmir lost their status of semi-autonomy to India. Financial instability, uncertainties, violence, unsettlement in a patriarchal society, and diminishments of freedom are all reasons as to why Kashmiri women would seek to find their luck in GCC countries now. It is all the more shameful that they find their human rights violated overseas once more, and the escalation in Kashmir predicts many more migrants for the future.

Though, in the midst of a pandemic, Amnesty International sees an opportunity for change. The organization released a report in April 2020 stating that Covid-19 is shining light on the inhumane, and often overcrowded, conditions many migrant workers in the GCC states live in. “Suddenly, the consequences of denying people their basic rights are impossible to ignore.” The report follows up with a detailed action plan dedicated to employers and governments. It is so important for these countries, that rely and prosper heavily from migrant workers, to take genuine action to protect their workers’ rights equally.