Skillfull Survivals

Edited by: Philippe Fargues and Nasra M. Shah
Publisher: Gulf Research Center Cambridge
Published year: 2017
GRM year: 2015

The Gulf States are among the most sought-after destinations by global migrants. Part of this migration is irregular, due to five main causes: entering with no proper visa; overstaying once a visa or residence permit has expired; being employed by someone who is not the sponsor; absconding from a sponsor; and being born in the Gulf to parents with an irregular status. The treatment reserved for migrants in an irregular situation marks out the Gulf States. Arrest and detention are widespread practices in spite of constitutional guarantees against arbitrary imprisonment. Staying without a proper visa or absconding from a sponsor is regarded as a criminal act, and foreign nationals who commit such acts are detained in the same prisons as common law criminals with no clear right of recourse. Domestic workers, most of whom are women employed by private households and, therefore, not protected by labour laws which in the Gulf apply only to businesses, are particularly subject to arbitrary sanctions and jail. Lived experiences suggest that migrants may not see their irregular status as being disastrous. Many, in fact, are willing to perpetuate this situation, despite their awareness about possible arrest, jail term, and deportation. A theme that emerges repeatedly in interviews indicates the lack of options open to 110 migrants elsewhere, including their country of origin. Migrants in an irregular situation learn to negotiate the formal and informal spaces and systems they encounter. They have specific goals they want to achieve during their Gulf stay, whatever the cost. Education of their children and building a house in the origin country are paramount among these goals. Most irregular migrants seem to share one characteristic: resilience. As their stay in the Gulf lengthens, they gather enough capacity to exercise their agency to achieve a skilful survival in the face of adversity. A wide-ranging system of mutual benefits constituting win-win situations for varied actors enables and perpetuates irregular migration.

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