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Gulf Migration: Governing Gulf Labour in a Global Labour Market

Friday 2 November 2018
Free attendance. Register via lucis@hum.leidenuniv.nl, free drinks after
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius room

This roundtable examines Gulf labour migration governance from multiple perspectives. It focuses on the economic migration corridor between South/Southeast Asia and the Gulf to look at the major actors, processes, and issues that must be considered when examining labour market and migration governance.

Approximately one-fifth of all global labour migrants reside in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. That is around 22 million expatriate workers, more than the total population of the Netherlands. A majority of these migrants travel from South and Southeast Asia. It should come as no surprise then, that labour migration is a critical policy issue in the region. In fact, over 80 percent of the private sector labour force in GCC economies is foreign and between 60 and 90 percent of economic migrants from South Asian countries leave their homes to work in the Gulf. But how does this migration process transpire? Who governs the migration and work of expats to Gulf economies?

Most assume that states, border agencies, and immigration authorities are responsible for governing migration. It has become increasingly apparent that the picture is not that simple. Host and home states, regional and international organisations, national leaders and politicians, unions, businesses, transnational activist networks, recruitment agencies, families of migrants, and the migrants themselves all play a role. Migration governance is anything but a coherent system.

Arguably the first time the international community has gotten serious about the global governance of migration was around the multilateral, multi-actor consultation process culminating in the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) published in July 2018. The GCM represents the first intergovernmentally-negotiated agreement under the auspices of the UN. No other major global, trans-border issue has received such little global governance attention. What might this new attention and mandate mean for migration from South/Southeast Asia to West Asia and for the various actors involved?

This innovative roundtable includes speakers actively involved in migration governance or  forms of advocacy in the South/Southeast Asia to Gulf migration corridor. The speakers will present insights from their unique perspectives and vantage points on this theme. They will address the questions: Who are the critical actors in the governance of migration in this corridor? What is the most critical issue to address in migration governance?


Seeta Sharma, International Labour Organisation (ILO), Delhi, India: With over a decade of work in the migration sector across countries in South, South-Ease and the West Asia region, prior to which she was working in the development sector. Seeta currently works with the International Labour Organization in India where she works closely with governments and with a range of other stakeholders. Earlier, she worked with civil society supporting several migrants rights organizations in their mandates and assisting them to network at regional and international levels. In her personal capacity, she continues to assist with individual migrants cases.

Deepak Unnikrishnan, NYU Abu Dhabi: Deepak is a writer from Abu Dhabi. His book Temporary People, a work of fiction about the UAE's transient inhabitants, was the winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing (US) and the Hindu Prize (India). The book has also been on the long list and short list for other prizes, most recently the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. Critically acclaimed and reviewed in numerous publications like the The Los Angeles Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Economist, The Wire, Outlook India, Di Repubblica, among others, it was named by Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Hindu as one of the best books of 2017. 

At the 57th Venice Biennale, his work was featured in the written publication of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play. He teaches at NYU Abu Dhabi. 

Rafeek Ravuther, Centre for Indian Migrant Studies (CIMS): Rafeek is the director of the Centre for Indian Migrants Studies (CIMS) in Cochin, India. CIMS was established to help families to locate their missing relatives who migrated from different parts of India into various parts of the world. CIMS’ initiative “Pravasalokam” (a weekly TV programme started in August 2000) opened a floodgate of issues to be handled in order to support stranded migrant workers in the Gulf. CIMS is seeking systematic intervention to assist migrant workers, especially from Kerala, which has a high rate of unskilled labour migration. Rafeek has been involved in raising public awareness of the plight of migrant workers and their families and on protecting the human rights of migrant workers. Some of the migrant worker's issues that Rafeek focuses on include recruitment practices, Kafala system, and rights to health

Chair and discussant 

Crystal Ennis, Leiden University: Dr. Crystal Ennis is a scholar of the global political economy whose research examines the political economy of dependency on hydrocarbon revenue & foreign labour in Gulf economies. Crystal has ongoing projects on migration and labour market governance, Omani youth in the labour market, unemployment & entrepreneurship in Gulf economies, and health care migration from Asia to the Gulf.


The panel is open to all. There is no registration fee, but registration is required. To register for attendance, send an email to lucis@hum.leidenuniv.nl with your name and affiliation.

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