Middle East Migrant Workers: Treated Like Trash (In The Gulf)

Male Middle East migrant worker
Top bloke. Face edited out for obvious reasons.

I absolutely LOVE travelling in The Middle East.

Whether it’s braving the gritty streets of Baghdad, unearthing the mystery of Bahrain’s Tree of Life, being wowed by Petra, or embracing all of the cool things to do in Muscat; I have a lot of love for this region in many ways, and it’s mainly down to the people.

However, seeing so nowhere is a utopia, there are always cons to the pros and one that irks me while travelling in the Gulf States; is the patently shitty treatment of Middle East migrant workers.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but you aren’t allowed to leave with food from the breakfast buffet. It’s hotel policy.”

The Filipina waitress said this in various polite ways, at least 5 times.

But the disgruntled woman in question wasn’t so amiable and each time she spoke to the waitress, it was with an air of contempt as if she had a thirsty desire to strip her of any remaining dignity.

It was an absurd request. Her large family had already eaten a mountain of food from the breakfast buffet, and now she was not only flouting the hotel rules by taking more food with her – but she was actually demanding that the waitress package it up for her.

Sidenote: I’m certainly no ardent conformist. I’m naughty too. I like to challenge rules and authority and see what I can get away with, it was her behaviour that’s the main focus here.

Sinister levels of snobbery emanated from this gluttonous, arrogant being as she dismissed the girl nonchalantly with a contemptuous hand gesture while repeating loudly: “Go away and do your job, I don’t want to hear from you anymore!”

The poor girl was clearly holding back tears as she cleared my table just minutes later.

“Wow, you’re a lot more patient than me,” I said.

She mustered a smile and replied that she had to be as it was her job. She was in a lose-lose situation. Another hotel policy was the old “the customer is always right” bollocks and she was pretty sure she’d lose 25% of her wages if the woman complained. Apparently, it happens a lot.

This wasn’t the first story like this in the Gulf region of The Middle East that I’d heard and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

What is a Gulf Country?

Regions of the world can be confusing and I’ve often heard The Gulf being referred to as The Middle East simultaneously. The Gulf nations of the Middle East are Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudia Arabia and The United Arab Emirates.

I have visited all of those countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia (I was planning to go there, but Covid really started kicking off).

The country under the main scrutiny from me today is Kuwait. However, I did see “same shit, different country” in Qatar, Bahrain and mostly the UAE. There could be an opposing argument that I have been to the UAE more often, so the law of averages would suggest that I had more exposure to this behaviour and sad stories.

I’m also a bleeding-hearted Oman fanboy, so there’s a chance it can happen over there too and that maybe I had my selective empathy goggles blinding me.

The Gulf countries are some of the richest in the world thanks to their high concentration of oil, aggressive and open trading and very lenient tax policies. Sadly a decent chunk of them is also getting a deserved reputation for their rough treatment of overseas workers who prop up most of their economies in hospitality, taxi services, construction and a whole lot more.

Chatting With Middle East Migrant Workers in The Gulf

On my way back to my room I asked to speak to the hotel manager. When we met I informed him that a customer had been verbally abusive to one of his staff members at breakfast and that she’d handled it really well.

I’m not sure whether he really listened to me, and took a mental note, or just pretended to, but he seemed receptive anyway.

“But Muuuh … This is only one experience. Mah feelings.”

(I hear you shriek)

This happened in Kuwait and if I got a hair follicle back on my balding head for every time I saw a local treat a foreign worker as if they were sub-human, then I’d have one beautiful mane.

*Flashback to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) a week before …*

“The greatest business in this country is the fine business,” announced the Bangladeshi taxi driver.

He elaborated. Whenever the company he works for feels like it, they deduct a big chunk of his paycheck as a fine for supposed ‘negligence’.

When he finds time out from his gruelling 4 am-4 pm, a 7-days-a-week job he drives to the office (if he can manage to catch them before they close) and asks the reason for this latest deduction.

The best and most common answer he’s had so far is “Well if you don’t like it, you can always leave …”

I play devil’s advocate and ask him if he was ever late, but he seems artless in his protestations. My intuition believes him. I don’t want to, because it’s infuriating – however, the truth isn’t always pretty. Maybe I’m wrong, but after my wandering around the Gulf States and seeing for myself just how appallingly immigrants are treated (and this is in public), I’m inclined to believe him.

I spoke to an Omani guy about all of this in Muscat. He said I should be careful because people will always speak ill of their enemies.

He was a good man and his intentions seemed genuine.

But I found this a little too simplistic and, of course, I’d witnessed most of these incidents with my own eyes. Also, in my experience, Filipinas are one of the least likely people to talk about others in such a clandestine manner. They are overall way too lovely and when they share these rough stories, it’s still done with an air of respect.

I’m throwing out generalisations here, but all I can do is say it how I see it.

My heart really does go out to them and I realise I wrote this a little high on emotion, but I’m rolling with it. I understand a great deal of these people are doing it to make more money than they could at home and live a better quality of life (and Filipino culture dictates that they send a sizable wedge of money back to their parents when doing this).

If I were them; I’d do exactly the same thing and move abroad to a place that pays me more money.

One of my main reasons for visiting the Middle East (other than eating copious amounts of next-level hummus) was that the mainstream media on both sides tends to spin the truth about this region, and I wanted to make my mind up for myself, instead of being told what to think.

I thoroughly enjoy my time over there. This story is merely one chapter.

On my final day in Kuwait, a young boy around 10 years old strutted over to the cashier in the cafe I was in, and, in a clipped authoritative tone, barked: “GIVE ME STRAW!”

He then snatched the straw out of the cashier’s hand without a word. No, please. No thank you. No grateful nod …

“Little shit,” I thought to myself.

Anthony Middleton

Former loser who took a risk. Visited over 100 countries. Trying my best to not get skinny-fat during Covid.

1 Comments

  1. Cate Brubaker on February 15, 2018 at 11:47 am

    I have a million similar stories from the two years I spent in the region. Most notably are the squalid, overcrowded camps where the single, male laborers live and the night I saw thirty or forty dead-eyed young women crammed into a bus emblazoned with the logo of a popular mani-pedi chain. Then there were the men who were tasked with everything manual around our housing complex. Nine of them shared a room less than the size of a two car garage.

    Too few people are willing to talk about this bleak side of luxury in the Gulf states and I get it. It’s an issue of modern day indentured servitude and it’s hard for many to even wrap their heads around that concept let alone the fact that it even exists in modern times.

    I’m glad to hear that you stuck up for the server. More visitors to the region need to do that. Hell, more visitors just need to be aware that servers exist. A smile, a please and a thank you, and a cash tip in their hand (as opposed to what’s included in the bill, because we all know they never see a penny of that) go a long way to help boost a soul who is literally struggling to hang on by a rapidly fraying thread.

  2. Raymond on February 16, 2018 at 1:24 am

    Kuwaitis are pretty much dicks all around. Just my experience. I lived in Oman for 2 years, and you’re right — the class system isn’t nearly as prevalent there. But have I mentioned what dicks Kuwaitis are?

    • DJ on July 29, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      Totally agree with you… Indian expat born and raised here and working currently for the past 8 years… Complete dicks in all levels!!!

  3. Shailesh on February 17, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    Aah good sum up…. Damn inhumanly treatment of immigrant workforce is real and troublesome…. Have heard lot of narrations from sufferers myself. Feels bad.

    Good article… Keep blogging.

  4. Katrin on April 13, 2018 at 8:31 am

    This is so sad, and makes me so angry. And I know it’s kind of living-up-in-the-clouds, but why can’t we humans just appreciate the shortness of life and spread love, compassion and happiness instead of looking down at people and making their lives miserable. All of our lives would be improved by that, cause it can certainly not be a harmonious soul who treat others badly.

    Thank you for being a voice for those who cannot afford to speak up for themselves

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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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