A partnership to support migrant workers in Kuwait during the COVID-19 crisis

​​​« back to Covid-19 & Migration

12 May 2020​, by Fairway Project /  Kagan Sophie, ILO

There are an estimated 3.17 million migrant workers in Kuwait including more than 700,000 migrant domestic workers. These are the workers who, just a few months ago, served smiling families in bustling malls and restaurants, cleaned schools and streets, and constructed Kuwait's dramatic skyline. Now as the spread of COVID-19 has left malls locked shut, restaurants empty and schools closed for the summer, many migrant workers have felt the full bru​nt of crisis. Many were already in a precarious situation, earning the minimum wage (equivalent to USD240 for private s​ector workers, and lower for domestic workers), living in cramped accommodation and with limited access to social protection. One source predicted that up to 250,000 migrants may now lose their jobs, and as many as 30,000 migrants in an irregular situation have already left the country, or planning to do so as soon as countries of origin will agree to repatriate them.

Migrant workers in desperate need are having to rely on whatever protections that can be afforded by their embassy or civil society. Yet, this is particularly challenging for many migrant workers including from a growing number of African countries, particularly those without embassy support. According to official statistics from 2018 there were 47,227 African workers in Kuwait of which 92% were female. Online research with a sample of 245 African workers, carried out by Sandigan Kuwait in 2019, revealed that many already faced major challenges in Kuwait - more than 60 percent reported that they did not have a weekly day off, 70 percent did not have access to their passport, and more than half had experienced racism since their arrival.

With the unfolding crisis, the ILO through an SDC-funded initiative called the FAIRWAY Programme – is partnering with the International Domestic Workers' Federation and local civil society organization, Sandigan Kuwait, to give support and hope to these and other migrant workers in the country.

To build an evidence-based support programme, Sandigan has run a major rapid assessment of the specific vulnerability and needs of migrant communities in Kuwait through an online survey, reaching more than 3000 migrant workers.

Next, to bridge the gap in communication between various migrant communities, Sandigan has started bi-weekly virtual meetings with migrant worker community representatives to ensure that food distribution (from which 7000 people have already benefited ) can reach the most vulnerable community members, and that there is information flowing both from, and to, the various migrant communities to ensure that their needs are being heard by local CSOs, governments and other stakeholders.

Next, Sandgan is turning its attention to the critical issue of migrant workers' deteriorating mental health. In 'lockdown' areas of Kuwait, the isolation and stress has been pushing many to the verge of suicide. According to media reports, in the last 21 days alone, nine suicides and four attempted suicides were recorded in Kuwait. One Filipino worker who took his own life inside a hospital recently. One of the hospital staff said, “He was crying and was depressed because he was a person under investigation for corona and he said he received his official termination from work." Through a public outreach campaign on social media, Sandigan will partner with different migrant communities to provide information about workers' health, labour rights and places they can go for assistance, with an emphasis on providing some degree of moral support that help them to feel they are not alone. “We want, above all, to prevent panic", said Ann Abunda from Sandigan, “because there is so much incorrect information about the virus", including stigma on people who test positive. ​​

Through this collaborative campaign, disseminating information and support to all nationalities and types of workers, the project aims to ensure that no worker is left behind.