World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media

24 November 2000

Churches call for UN to investigate killings, beatings and suicides of migrant workers in Gulf States

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) have jointly called on the United Nations (UN) to examine the "many reports" of serious abuses, including murder, of migrant workers in the countries of the Persian Gulf.

In a letter to Ms Gabriela Rodriguez, UN special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, WCC and ICMC call for an on-the-spot UN investigation in the Gulf, which is home to around 12 million migrants, mainly from South Asia and Egypt.

The ICMC/WCC letter is signed by ICMC secretary general Mr William Canny and by Rev. Dwain Epps, coordinator of the WCC International Relations team. The text follows:

"We are deeply concerned about the situation of migrant workers in the Persian Gulf countries and ask you to investigate their situation as part of your mandate.

The many reports of beatings, deaths and suicides of domestic migrant workers make such an investigation by your office necessary.

The International Catholic Migration Commission and the World Council of Churches have a long history of advocating for the rights of migrant workers. It is in that spirit that we ask your office to take up the challenge of examining the particular needs of migrant workers in the Gulf.

As you know, large numbers of migrant workers are present in the Gulf countries; although accurate statistics are not available, we understand that they number close to twelve million, with the majority coming from South Asia and Egypt.

We know from reports of human rights organizations, migrants' associations and other sources, that migrants in the Gulf face serious difficulties. Of particular concern to us are reports of serious abuse, the routine confiscation of passports by employers or sponsors, and the lack of adequate judicial recourse when conflicts arise between workers and employers.

We are especially troubled by the vulnerability of workers whose passports are taken by their employers. Moreover, the involvement of private recruitment and sponsoring agencies makes it difficult to assign responsibility when a migrant worker does not receive promised wages or benefits. When legal recourse does exist, it is often so time-consuming and expensive that migrants are unable to use such mechanisms.

Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable because they are not included in the labour laws of most Gulf countries. This means they have no legal recourse whatsoever when an employer requires them to work eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.

In a world where migrant workers face difficulties in every region, the situation in the Gulf countries is a particularly difficult one which requires further investigation. Unlike other parts of the world where migrant workers are present, there are no local organizations in the Gulf which can give migrants a voice.

We hope your office will be able to visit the region to collect first-hand accounts of the situation from both governments and migrants, and then to recommend appropriate actions to the UN Human Rights Commission."

For more information contact:
the Media Relations Office
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.