Migrants suffer from human rights abuses, HRW says
by Begüm Tunakan
ISTANBULJan 31, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Begüm Tunakan
Jan 31, 2015 12:00 am
Immigrants are among the most vulnerable groups around the world as human rights practices in the European Union and Gulf countries fail to protect them from apparent violations, HRW says
In the face of growing human rights violations committed by both Western and non-Western countries, the issue of tackling abuses among migrants has so far been mishandled by most countries around the world, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The European Union, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have ignored the promotion and protection of human rights for migrants, while making security and border control the top priority on the government's agenda, while the international human rights organization has suggested that governments use human rights as "a path out of crisis and chaos."
HRW criticized the approach to human rights that many governments adopted during the tumultuous year of 2014, while reporting on human rights practices in more than 90 countries in the 644-page "World Report 2015."
"Human rights violations have played a major role in spawning or aggravating many of today's crises," said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth. "Protecting human rights and ensuring democratic accountability are keys to resolving them."
HRW criticized the E.U.'s reluctance to press each member state to impose a human rights-centered approach for the E.U.'s migration and asylum policy, while urging the E.U. to provide a stronger commitment to human rights protection inside its own borders. The new E.U. policy, "Operation Triton," aimed at refugees and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, imposes strict measures on search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The new rescue operation has been criticized due to the fact that the main focus of this joint E.U. mission is only to manage the border security control to keep the massive number of migrants away from coming to Europe.
The E.U. has faced a growing number of migrants arriving by sea, as conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Syria have forced considerable numbers of desperate people to try and reach Europe. At least 384,000 asylum seekers risked their lives on sea crossings during 2014, according to UNHCR figures. The agency reported that among them, 4,272 died during the crossings, revealing the worst humanitarian crisis that the world faces with no sufficient security measure to protect vulnerable people from dying.
Most immigrants and asylum seekers are sent to refugee camps in Cyprus and Malta, while attempting to sail to mainland Europe. The automatic, lengthy detention of migrants in Cyprus and Malta and the detention of children were also underscored by the international organization, calling the centers "Europe's prisons built for migrants only." HRW also highlighted the shortcomings in the regulations and agreements agreed by the 28-nation bloc "without due regard to individual circumstances, including family reunification," as many European counteies refrain from offering shelter to the vast majority of vulnerable refugees.
Human Rights Watch underscored the volatile situation of low-paid migrant workers, while condemning the inadequate reforms in place to protect migrants from "human trafficking, forced labor, and other rights violations. It is unclear whether they will provide some protection for migrant domestic workers, mostly women, who are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse."
Amid its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar, a large section of whose population is composed of migrant workers, has become a focus of international criticism of the mistreatment of low-paid migrant workers.
"Many migrant workers complain that their employers fail to pay their wages on time, if at all. Migrant workers are prohibited from unionizing or engaging in strikes, although they make up 99 percent of the private sector workforce. Many migrant workers are obliged to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, especially those working without documentation," reveals HRW while criticizing the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties a migrant worker's legal residence to his or her employer or sponsor, an unfair relationship between employer and employee due to the authorities use of arbitrary power over migrants workers.
The Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, are discussing the introduction of a unified action plan for providing protection to migrant workers, including a limit on the hours of work, and powerful enforcement mechanisms. Yet, the contract fails to promote rights for migrants as outlined in the International Labor Organization's Domestic Workers' Convention, which Qatar has yet to ratify.
Saudi Arabia's "vigorous campaign to arrest and deport foreign workers found in violation of existing labor laws, targeting workers who did not have valid residency or work permits, or those found working for an employer other than his or her legal sponsor" is underscored in the HRW report. Saudi Arabia offers work opportunities to more than nine million migrant workers, while deporting "163,018 Ethiopians between November 2013 and March 2014, and 458,911 Yemenis between June 2013 and June 2014." The inhumane conditions of detentions were also criticized as clear human rights abuses committed by the Saudi government.
The United Arab Emirates, falls short of international standards for the rights of workers, while committing human rights abuses. "Foreigners account for more than 88.5 percent of UAE residents, according to 2011 government statistics," HRW reveals.
The UAE, established in 1971, is the main business center in the Gulf region. The UAE, especially Dubai, where labor unions are banned, has long faced criticism from HRW, who say it turns a blind eye to cases of the non-payment of wages, lack of medical care and sub-standard housing for workers. Construction workers in the booming Gulf trade hub, which has built the world's tallest tower and man-made islands, have long complained about poor working conditions, as many of the migrant workers are exploited and abused, amounting to forced labor by their employers "who act as their visa sponsors."