“The winner to organise the 2022 FIFA World Cup is…Qatar”. A dozen words that started one of the most ramified controversies of the last 12 years.
Kafala (to learn more, keep reading), inhumane working conditions, all-time-low salaries and death in the workplace. Ever since the beginning, many dug up the dirt and exposed it for the world to see.
However, not to take the heat away from Qatar (pun unintended), the type of narrative that struck a nerve with football-loving westerners is no breaking news. The tiny Middle Eastern thumb-shaped country is far from being the only location where such human rights violations take place.
A more productive approach to such issues is to acknowledge they sadly are more frequent than we would like to admit.
For this International Migrants Day, we should ask ourselves: how aware am I really of migrant workers conditions in my own country/city? And, is my own social circle involved in preventing experiences like the Qatari one?
How Qatar shone the spotlight on migrant workers’ conditions
Qatar’s population is quite the scene. Of the total 2.6 million, only roughly 300,000 are natives of the wealthy semi-constitutional monarchy.
No need to pinch yourself. You read right. The vast majority of Qatar’s demographic are expatriates.
The rapid explosion of Qatari economics required a low-income workforce which was not recruitable from the neighbouring countries. The government then resorted to a sponsorship-based way of attracting cheap workers from countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh.
This visa system goes by the name Kafala and it allows for extensive power of the employer over the employee on both work and immigration matters. Additionally, little did those cat-fished migrant workers know that their new endeavor would put them in even deeper debt.
Upon arrival at Qatar, workers’ passports would be confiscated for the duration of the assignment and a recruiting fee demanded.
With the Kafala system, employees must ask for authorization for virtually anything connected to their permanence in the country. Be it to change jobs, file a complaint or even get back to their country, subjects to this system are basically stuck in a maze of slow reaction, heavy paperwork, and lack of human rights.
In the Qatar example, migrant workers spent their time in a delimited living area on the outskirts of Doha. A neighborhood without connections to the fervent and shiny center and blocked from all accesses to unwanted eyes.
An area where dusty, overpacked accommodations were the roof to these workers who had to commute to construction sites and work long hours under scorching hot temperatures and unbearable conditions.
2022 International Migrants Day’s Irony
On this day, every year since 2000, the world takes a moment to recognize the misunderstood and wildly underrated impact migration carries.
“International days are occasions to educate the general public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity” (https://www.un.org/en/observances).
On this day in 2022, however, the world faces the irony of an unplanned coincidence.
International Migrants Day and the final game of probably one of the most discussed FIFA World Cups in recent memory share the stage this December 18th (also Qatar’s National Day).
Is this a happy-accident? Or rather a cruel reminder of how distant we perceive migrants’ conditions, their journey, their stories and their voice. Unless they end up in our mainstream flow of the “relevant” events happening in the world. Unless they include an upsetting soundtrack and a 90 seconds testimonial by an undercover journalist.
Every day migrants move and separate from their families.
Every day migrants accept unfair negotiations and try to make a living in inhospitable contexts.
Every day migrants die without a flag neatly folded on their coffin and their family wait for compensation that (when even considered) is never cashed.
Shifting focus and looking closer to home
For this International Migrants Day, let’s change the paradigm.
Let’s shift from the one-day attention span this gentle reminder provides to a daily awareness of how migrants’ lives wind up intertwined with ours more often than we realize.
And if time allows for it, let’s take today to journey back home from Qatar. Back to our surroundings and question how much we actually know about those same conditions and laws in our community that so much shocked us when they were far from reach.
Migrants and their stories have a bigger impact when we can relate. When we hear about mothers separated from their kids, we immediately think about ours. When we read about men being exploited, our thoughts go to our own brothers or fathers and wish they never go through the same.
At times, though, these testimonials seem remote and us, we might feel powerless or not concerned.
These days, though, our societies are more colorful, more diverse and weaved with a huge variety of different (life) threads.
Integration is not always smooth and it comes with its challenges. Each experience will differ, and hopefully in our context, we will not come across discrimination as powerful as what we heard in the build-up to the World Cup.
This does not mean that they do not happen, nor that, because they do not make the news we should disregard them.
Acknowledging one another and respecting one’s story
The most respectful act between humans is to acknowledge each other’s presence and not to judge the baggage each one of us carries. Deciding to do so, does require intention and time.
People leave their homes. They might have planned it thoroughly; a missile might have woken them up in the middle of the night and they had no choice; they might need to look for their fortune away from their families to send money back to support them.
People also arrive in a new territory and they try to make it their new home. Some might already speak the language, others might already have a job. Some arrive after their belongings are already waiting for them in storage; others might wear on them all their lives.
Part of their story is influenced by us, the new community. How do we ensure our support in the process? Do we ask, rather than assume? Do we listen, rather than hear? Do we open doors instead of building walls?
How can I improve migrants’ conditions in my community?
When asking this question, people expect intricate answers, stats and project plans. However, all revolutions started small. And as a drop touches water, it creates ripples. They also start small. Eventually, they grow gradually bigger and replicate.
The same applies to your actions towards the immigrants who share your space and cross your path. Kindness is contagious and if an example is set, more will follow.
But how concretely can you take upon such a task when it feels maybe too big?
Education is the starting point. Learn and dig about any resettling processes in your community. Once you gather details on the organizations involved and the necessities and needs to satisfy you can pivot your participation towards what most resonates with you also.
Support logistically with housing and goods distribution; or make their day more savory by distributing food or leading a cooking session. Alternatively, share the key to making new connections and volunteer to teach the local language.
Small actions for scalable impact
Even though you do not consider these little actions as impactful, they actually are on multiple levels.
Firstly, they widen and strengthen your knowledge about migration issues, triggers and impact. Also, they make you more perceptive about behaviours in your community that go against social integration. If you are able to recognize them, you are one step closer to preventing them from happening or addressing them if they do.
Getting involved and being aware of migrant stories in your communities gives you the chance to understand what your specific situation needs. This allows you to be on point and focus your energy in the right place.
Finally, it gives you the extra bonus of getting close to other humans, to learn about their culture, their reasons, their hopes, and their dreams. It gives you the opportunity to look them in the eyes and forget about borders, prejudices and cultural differences.
These actions shine a light on the commonalities we share, they equip you with the tools to be proactive, and most importantly, they teach you how to spot unfairness and take a position against it.
These actions are the first step in not letting history repeat itself and make the headlines once more.
You can start making a difference with SPEAK
Our mission at SPEAK is to facilitate social integration, to bridge between different realities and to advocate for the generosity of narratives immigration prides itself with.
One of the ways we do so is through language groups, both online and offline. You can carry the flag of your own culture, bring it to the session and share it with participants from other nationalities.
On this International Migrants Day, join us as a buddy to start welcoming migrants to your city. You will be able to decide which language you want to share and the schedule that fits you best. Over 12 sessions, you will be able to connect with your group and lead it through the discovery of your corner of the world.
Read about how to navigate multiculturality in a language group as a buddy and get inspired.