Trying to Read Between-the-Lines in the Kuwaiti Press
By Kevin Stoda
According to a 17 August report from Kuwait’s Al-Watan Daily, “State agencies are to coordinate efforts to deport at least 800,000 unskilled expatriate workers within the next three years.” The government agencies claim that this is not a racist approach against any particular people, nation, nor region.
However, some informants have noted that “workers to be deported mostly hail from two Arab countries and two Asian nations.”
Al-Watan’s contacts in the government have recently emphasized that “the authorities will not change their decision to repatriate these workers, particularly since they pose a serious and real threat to national security.”
It is not made clear to Al-Watan Daily readers, though, how their could be 800,000 dangerous people in such a small country, i.e. Kuwait, whereby the state only has a total population of under 3.2 million persons (with two-thirds of those being expatriates).
The Al-Watan staff report continues, “Meanwhile, informed sources have revealed that about 200,000 nationals of an Asian country will face deportation due to the spread of infectious diseases among them and their involvement in crimes.”
This likely refers to the Bangladeshi citizens now living in Kuwait. Last month, Bangladeshi laborers in Maboula, who were striking for many months of back wages, found police response in the form of tear gas and clubs. Violence also apparently broke out. The U.S. Embassy has warned its citizens to stay clear of the area.
In addition, one government source was even more precise saying that more than 800,000 would be expelled. This is because peoples of “one Arab country have been living in Kuwait as unskilled workers to avoid compulsory military service in their countries . . . this segment is numbered at around 170,000.”
This is probably a reference to the Syrian population in Kuwait as military service is compulsive back in these expatriate’s homeland. Earlier in April 2008, Kuwait had expelled two Syrians for traffic violations, i.e. driving through red lights.
One final quote from the Al-Watan investigators is “that at least 500,000 nationals of an Arab country will be repatriated since they either carry contagious diseases or constitute as unskilled laborers.”
It would appear that this might refer either again to the Syrian labor force in Kuwait or two the Egyptian population.
Apparently , Al-Watan editors were afraid of causing riots in the streets by naming any names—or even names of ministries in their alarming front page piece.
Kuwait, however, needs to have more information on this topic—and pronto.
Kuwait already has a bad labor rights reputation and this planned move by Kuwaiti government ministries using claims of (1) national security and (2) the supposed necessity of reducing the number of lower-skilled laborers needs to be debated more in the local media and in the editorial sections of all papers and media sources in the region.
This form of vague news report (in this case: a labor report) by Al-Watan is not too uncommon in Kuwait because so much is done behind closed doors. Therefore, news journalists often need weeks or months to verify the authenticity of claims made by their sources. With this being the case, I would anticipate Al-Watan to follow up on this piece with more detail—even naming names—in September and October 2008.