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Gulf labor policies need context

Western institutions should take the GCC's unique labor challenges into account when addressing migrant worker protection in the Gulf.
An Ethiopian worker argues with a member of the Saudi security forces as he waits with his countrymen to be repatriated in Manfouha, southern Riyadh, November 11, 2013. Thousands of mostly African workers gathered in Riyadh on Sunday seeking repatriation after two people were killed in overnight rioting that followed a visa crackdown by Saudi authorities. One of those killed was a Saudi, said a government statement, and the other was not identified. An Ethiopian man was killed in a visa raid last week. Ethi

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is the largest recipient of temporary labor migrants in the world. It hosts 24 million migrant workers (43% of the total GCC population), who in 2012 remitted over $50 billion, outnumbering foreign aid to developing countries and reinforcing the GCC’s emerging economic role in the developing world.

Despite these contributions, many foreign observers argue that the GCC’s Kafala or "sponsor" system — its temporary labor program that operates through sponsorship — exploits migrants. These critics err in homogenizing the GCC states into one monolithic entity, and therefore it is imperative to contextualize each state’s internal challenges — including outdated bureaucracy, dislocated native human capital and security issues — to formulate policy solutions. These particular dilemmas have not only appeared to undermine internal GCC state capacity but also increasingly pose critical institutional constraints to their potential economic growth, development and diplomatic relations. 

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