Human Trafficking and the Kafala System

By Casey Johnson

Faculty Mentor: Professor Farhang Rouhani

For my Middle Eastern Studies Minor and Honors Program capstone, I studied the Kafala sponsorship system practiced within the Gulf states. The Kafala system is the state program that facilitates labor related immigration to these countries. The system requires a citizen or company within the country to act as a sponsor for an immigrant to be able to travel to the host state and become their employee. This sponsor-employee relationship has specific legal obligations laid out by the state. The sponsor becomes responsible for the residential, medical, and legal wellbeing of the employee. The employee, in return, fulfills various work projects that have been contractually agreed upon. The Kafala system sees immigrants employed in various sectors; however, I focused solely on female immigrants employed in the domestic sector by individual citizens. The problem I argued is that the Kafala system has fostered a new form of contemporary slavery and has increased the likelihood of human trafficking within the region. I believe this topic is important for further study to create greater awareness of the issue. The emphasis of more popular and internationally recognized human rights abuses in the Middle East has, like other regions of the world, has facilitated a situation where the abuses taking place under the Kafala system are not as known or understood. It is also important as the states where abuses are taking place are often seen as economic powerhouses and have close ties to the West compared to other countries in the region. Additionally, I thought this topic was equally as important as it has implications beyond the borders of countries within the Middle East. The issue of human rights regarding immigration is a global problem, particularly for immigrants who come from the Global South and lack the agency to advocate for their own rights. I felt that it was important to cover a topic that had greater meaning beyond a few countries in one region of the world.

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One Reply to “Human Trafficking and the Kafala System”

  1. Casey, I’m embarrassed to say I knew nothing about the Kafala system, though I have been learning more about human trafficking in the US the last few years. This was a really interesting and powerful capstone project, so clearly outlining some practical ways that an exploitative system might be ameliorated. Thank you.

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