International investigation into alleged employment abuses and trafficking of migrant workers at U.S military bases

Our grantee Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) has carried out a cross-border investigation, along with the Washington Post, NBC News Investigations and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, into alleged trafficking and employment abuses of migrant workers by private contractors at U.S military bases across the Persian Gulf.

They interviewed more than 40 current and former employees of the private contractors who supply staff to U.S military bases. The testimonies appear to show that many of the thousands of migrants employed on Persian Gulf bases have been subjected to various forms of employment abuse, some that amounts to trafficking.

The investigation noted that employment agencies frequently charge illegal recruitment fees to place them in jobs overseas, with the promise of healthy salaries on arrival. The fees can run into the thousands of dollars, requiring migrants, who are then paid as little as $1 an hour, to work for several years before they’ve paid off their debts.

In addition, many claimed to have had their passports confiscated and been refused “release papers” required under local laws, which denies them the freedom to leave or move jobs. The abuses described by the workers would appear to violate U.S. regulations against human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors. Court records and government documents also show that such abuses have been repeatedly flagged in recent years.

In the past five years, the Pentagon has responded to 176 reported instances of labour trafficking on military bases in the Persian Gulf and beyond, according to State Department reports. However, there have been substantiated violations involving over 900 workers in the year 2020 alone. The investigation stated that there was a lack of transparency at the Pentagon, even when it came to disclosing the names of the contractors with violations.

The investigation has been published across multiple U.S and international publications including NBC News and The Washington Post, and ARIJ have also secured a consortium of Arabic independent publishing platforms. This means it will also be published in Arabic in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and Yemen.

Founded in 2006, ARIJ is a regional organisation that promotes the culture and practice of investigative journalism across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It aims to create a watchdog media culture that would challenge and hold those in power to account by providing support to journalists and media workers to produce independent and quality journalism. ARIJ believes that investigative journalism can play a pivotal role in pushing for reforms that would guarantee transparency, institutional accountability, rule of law and human rights.



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