CAIRO: The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) issued a report on Tuesday calling for the annulment of the kafeel (sponsorship) system in the Arab world.
The report considered the kafeel system “the most serious violation” of Egyptians working in Gulf countries.
“The kafeel system is more like slavery; it has no guarantees to protect the Egyptian worker’s rights,” Tarek Zaghlol, director of EOHR, told Daily News Egypt.
In Gulf countries that apply the kafeel system, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a foreigner can’t get a job without a local sponsor, according to the law.
The kafeel system gives the sponsor the right to confiscate a worker’s passport and residency and even prevent him from leaving the country. Sometimes Egyptian citizens are forced to waive all their financial rights to return to Egypt safely.
“Egyptians’ rights is the last thing the Egyptian government cares about; it cares more about its relations with the Gulf countries and gives it priority,” Emad Gad, international relations expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt.
Gad doubted that the Egyptian government would make an official statement or call for the annulment of the kafeel system. “Sometimes the foreign ministry inquires about certain cases regarding violations against Egyptians working abroad, but without taking any firm position,” he said.
In April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s system of kafeel during her visit to the Gulf state.
In 2009, the US State of Foreign Affairs described the kafeel system as a kind of “human trafficking” that violates the agreements and recommendations of the International Labor Organization.
“Despite the harsh international criticism of the kafeel system, Gulf countries haven’t developed enough in the field of human rights to annul it and understand that it’s a flagrant violation of human rights,” Gad said.
Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia constitute 48.29 percent of the Egyptian workforce in the Arab World, according to the report.
In the period between January 2010 and now, the EOHR was able to locate 18 Egyptian employees suffering from mistreatment and abuse in Saudi Arabia. There was no interference from the either the Egyptian government or the Saudi government to solve their problems, according to the report.
“Egyptian workers are being detained in other countries; their passports are being confiscated; their movement is being restricted; they are getting expelled from countries without any legal basis,” Zaghlol told Daily News Egypt.
The report condemned the government’s stance towards Egyptians working abroad and criticized the Egyptian constitution for not protecting their rights.
“We have 211 articles in the constitution, among them there isn’t even one guaranteeing the rights of Egyptians working abroad,” Zaghlol said.
Article 52 of the constitution guarantees Egyptians the right to travel and immigrate, but doesn’t mention their rights within foreign borders.
“Citizens shall have the right to permanent or temporary immigration. The law shall regulate this right and the measures and conditions of immigration and leaving the country,” states Article 52 of the constitution,
The budget for the immigration sector in the Ministry of Manpower is low. It was LE 270,000 until 2001. In 2003, the budget was reduced to LE 135,000, according to the report.
The immigration sector is responsible for Egyptian immigrants. Its duties include constant communication and follow-ups on their situation abroad and keeping them connected to their motherland.
The report referred to international conventions and treaties that protect the rights of alien workers including The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory.
The conventions stipulate everyone’s right to liberty of movement within the borders of each state and guarantees the right to leave any country, and to return to one’s own country, excluding matters of national security, public order, public health and freedom of others.
They add that each state is responsible for protecting the freedom and rights of every citizen within its borders, without any discrimination based on race, color, nationality, language or religion.
The organization made several recommendations to Egyptian officials including calling on the Egyptian foreign ministry to educate Egyptian workers about their rights abroad and methods of contacting their embassies when necessary, providing them with financial, moral and legal support, and protecting them from any violations or abuse that might occur.
The report also demanded that Egyptian citizens abroad have the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections.
According to a report by the International Organization for Migration, 2.7 million Egyptians were working abroad in 2009, including 70 percent in Arab countries and 30 percent in Europe and North America,