Video: Beating of migrant worker in Bahrain stirs outrage


In a nine-second video published online, a Bahraini man smacks a migrant worker in the face with a blow that sends him reeling. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon sight in Bahrain, which is known for widespread abuses against its many migrant workers. This time, however, the violence was caught on film and the shocking footage has provoked a response all the way up to the Bahraini government.

The short video, posted on Twitter and YouTube on August 1, could have easily gone unnoticed. The post contained no information about the context of the incident and didn’t even mention the exact date it occurred. The video captures a Bahraini man hitting a migrant worker of Asian origin in the face, while the person filming mocks the victim.

However, Twitter users spotted it and started sharing it. When the video started to circulate online, the reaction was fast and furious from many Bahrainis. Outraged internet users created a hashtag “migrant worker hit by a Bahraini" (in Arabic) to decry the cruelty of their countryman.

The incident took on an extra dimension when Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa tweeted about the video, demanding that the perpetrators of the attack be punished. His words weren’t just lip service: on Sunday, Al-Khalifa announced that four people had been arrested in the region of Riffa for having “assaulted an Asian person”. He didn’t give any further details.

The minister tweeted: "This man travelled all the way from his country and endured separation from his family to work hard in order to earn money (...) and then, a despicable person comes and hits him. May God punish his attacker".

"In Bahrain, we are seeing more and more initiatives to raise awareness about the daily struggles of migrant workers"

Bahrain, like its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, has many unskilled labourers, many of whom hail from southeastern Asia. According to a report by Human Rights Watch from 2011, there were already 478,000 migrant workers in Bahrain--which is substantial, considering the entire Bahraini population numbers only 1.4 million. The report also highlighted frequent abuses of these migrant workers. Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the human rights group BYSHR, agreed that mistreatment of migrant labourers is widespread.

Unfortunately, this kind of scene plays out frequently in Bahrain and we have received numerous complaints from migrant workers who’ve fallen victim to abuse.

Employers can act in this manner because of the "kafala" system [Editor’s note: This controversial system requires all foreign workers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. Many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions]. However, this is the first time that a video showing these abuses against migrant workers has been shared widely like this.

This year, we have seen more and more initiatives launched by activists or NGOs trying to raise awareness about the daily struggles of migrant workers [Editor’s Note: In February, a Bahraini lived for 24 hours as a migrant worker and made a short film about his experience].

The fact that this video was shared across social media and stirred up such outcry proves that Bahrainis are starting to question the way that migrant workers are treated and that, little by little, attitudes are starting to change.

These past years, Bahrain has enacted a series of reforms to the kafala system, including allowing workers to switch employers. These efforts have started to pay off: at the end of July, Bahrain was removed from the US State Department’s human trafficking watchlist. However, critics say that the reforms are not well enforced and that the country still has a long way to go.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).