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Gulf Guide Chapter 3 - Recruiters
Gulf Guide Chapter 3 - Recruiters

Illustration: Marcelle Louw for GIJN


» Guide

Chapter 3 – Statistics and Studies

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Data on human trafficking, forced labor, and irregular migration is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Incidents are reported regularly, but this information tends to be scattered across media outlets, government reports, and the publications of civil society organizations.

It is important to be aware of the limitations of such data, as methods and definitions by authorities and the media can vary between the Gulf countries, and even between different agencies within a single country.

For example, Bahraini officials and media sometimes conflate the terms “irregular workers,” which refers to workers who have not immigrated legally or whose visas have expired, and “free visa workers,” which refers to legally-valid workers who also do freelance (or black market) work for employers other than their original sponsor, and assign similar figures to them. However, this categorization is flawed because side work done via a “free visa” appears legal in all state administrative records as, technically, the migrants’ work visa is still valid. Familiarizing yourself with the specific lexicon of each country’s migration system will help you avoid these pitfalls.

For journalists willing to put in the hours, rich data can be mined from archived local media reports, which are available online. Both media in origin and destination countries regularly report on the numbers of undocumented workers deported from a country, or incidents involving trafficked workers. Reports by local and international NGOs as well as records maintained by origin country embassies also offer a repository of information; access to this data will often require you to develop relationships with these entities, as much is not published online.

Actual databases of information managed by governments or organizations tend to be limited to migrant population and labor force surveys. Some agencies occasionally publish data on trafficking victims and convictions, but be careful to compare official records with media reports of trafficking and forced labor. Official reports often underestimate (or intentionally misrepresent) the scale of these issues.

Below are resources for data related to trafficking, forced labor, and irregular migration. Caveats on the data provided are noted. We also provide an overview of the studies which touch on this topic.

Labor and Migration Data Sources

Modern Slavery Report. This 2020 study contains the most up-to-date data on forced labor around the world. The data related to the Arab States is limited as few studies could be conducted from within the region itself, however it currently provides the most complete data available.

Migration Data Portal. This resource, from the International Organization for Migration’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center (GMDAC), offers comprehensive statistics and information about migration data globally, including the Gulf.

International Labour Organization. The ILO publishes regular studies on forced labor, recruitment, and trafficking.

  • Publications related to Arab States can be found here.
  • A statistics database is available here.

The ILO’s Information System on International Labour Standards (NORMLEX)
collates information on international labor standards, such as a country’s ratification of ILO’s conventions, comments from ILO’s supervisory bodies, and individual country’s submissions reports on the application of conventions.

International Organization for Migration. The IOM regularly publishes data on undocumented migrants repatriated by the organization as well as interviews with these individuals, many of whom have been trafficked at along some point of their migration journey or who have been forced into labor. Their publications can be filtered by “forced labor,” “child labor,” etc.

Gulf Labor Markets and Migration. GLMM periodically publishes studies pertaining to irregular migration and practices that can amount to trafficking and forced labor. GLMM also provides a database on the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) legal system and data pertaining to migration.

US Trafficking of Persons Report. Published annually, this US State Department report rates government efforts to combat trafficking, and often provides insight into the number of officially logged trafficked victims or cases brought against traffickers.

Global Detention Project. The global detention project profiles many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and contains information relating to undocumented and trafficked migrant workers, many of whom end up in detention.

Missing Migrants project

The International Organization for Migration tracks migrants who have died or disappeared with its Missing Migrants project. Image: Screenshot

United Nations Sources

UNODC Report on Trafficking in Persons. Statistics on official reports of trafficking and convictions against traffickers across the MENA region.

United Nations Migration Profiles. The most recent data presented here is from 2010, but these profiles can be a good starting point for understanding the general migration context.

Origin Country Sources

Embassies, Relevant Ministries, and Statistical Agencies

Origin countries often collect information on issues involving their migrant workers abroad. Some of this information is published online on departmental websites, while other data needs to be requested in person or via phone. Examples include:

Studies and Data Gathered by Organizations

Organizations in origin countries, such as Indonesia and India, conduct studies on their overseas migrant workers, many of whom go to the Middle East. The list of studies is extensive and it’s recommended to visit the website of these individual organizations. Also consider contacting organizations directly as they often have research that is not published online. A few examples include:

Indonesia’s Migrant Care has an infographic on domestic workers going to Middle Eastern and North African countries despite the Indonesian ban on domestic worker deployment.

Bangladesh-based Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit features a number of reports and studies on the regional migration corridor.

Asian Migrant Centre’s  country profiles of the Philippines, UAE, Indonesia, and Qatar offer useful population/sector breakdowns. Be mindful that some profiles are more dated than others.

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women has several reports across migration corridors, including this report on access to justice for trafficked workers in the region.

Also of note is that Right to Information (RTI) Activism in India has been facing heightened physical threats and some critical statistics have been revealed through both RTI and parliamentary questions. Connecting with local parliamentarians to raise these issues is another alternative for gathering information.

Destination Country Sources

Studies by Organizations

Studies by NGOs in MENA destination countries are primarily from Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco. Examples include:

  • Lebanon: KAFA has extensive studies on the recruitment and employment of migrant domestic workers, many of whom are trafficked into the country or forced to work.
  • Kuwait: Kuwait Society For Human Rights has reports and information on the situation of migrant workers in Kuwait that can be helpful.
  • Bahrain: Migrant Worker Protection Society has older reports on the number, nationality, and outcome of cases of workers in their shelter. The Society may be able to provide more data if contacted directly.
  • Gulf Cooperation Council: The Abuse Map documents abuses against migrant workers in the GCC by type, including forced labor and human trafficking. also regularly publishes reports pertaining to these issues.
Ministries and Police Statements

Some MENA governments publish information on undocumented workers arrested or deported in periodic reports, in statements to local media, and even through official Twitter accounts. Governments with anti-trafficking initiatives may also publish relevant data. Examples include:

Studies by European Organizations

As Europe is increasingly a destination for migrant workers trafficked through North Africa and other parts of the MENA, several European-based migrant organizations have produced studies including:

Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants

International Rescue Committee

Médecins Sans Frontières

Save the Children


European Council on Refugees and Exiles

International Catholic Migration Commission

Data from International Human Rights Organizations

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have published many interview-based studies across the region. See key reports on our Essential Reading page.

Global Slavery Index. Profiles of countries detailing trafficking and forced labor contexts, including recent data.

Migration Policy Institute. Migration profiles of countries around the MENA region, containing useful historical context and recent data.

Academic Papers and Studies

Academic papers are not always highly publicized, but can contain valuable information on these issues. It is worth searching Google Scholar using search terms relevant to your country or issue. Features data on migrants, refugees, remittances, and recruitment costs around the world. You can filter to specifically look at the MENA region.

Forced Migration Review. The most widely read publication on forced migration. The website includes links to resources relating to refugees and forcibly displaced persons.

Gulf Centre For Development Policies. A Kuwait-based research center that produces important research publications on various topics in GCC states, including migration and labor markets.

Studies by Zahra Babar. Zahra Babar is the Associate Director for Research at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar. She has researched and published widely on migration and labor policies in the Gulf.

Studies by Dr. Ray Jureidini. Ray Jureidini is one of the leading experts on migration in the MENA region, and kicked off the study of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. He continues to publish regularly on migrant worker issues across the MENA region.

Studies by Dr. Nasra Shah. Nasra Shah is a Kuwait-based population studies specialist who has published several studies on migration and trafficking in the GCC.

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