Migration and Governance Network - MAGNET

ILO supports Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and the Gulf Cooperation Council States to strengthen labour migration governance and combat human trafficking.

Issue in focus
Decent Work for Domestic Workers: Advocating Institutional Reform in the Middle East
The ILO is working with countries in the Arab States to provide options for reform of national policies and institutions to protect migrant domestic workers rights.


Labour migration has increased exponentially in the Middle East since the onset of the 1970s oil boom. Initially, migrants came to work on large infrastructure projects but demand for workers soon diversified into manufacturing and other occupational sectors (such as retail, hospitality health, tourism and domestic help), presenting new opportunities for migrant women.       

Today, the Arab world is a hub of attraction for international migrants globally. The institution governing labour migration in the Middle East is the kafala, an employer-driven sponsorship system regulating the relationship that employers (known as sponsors or kafeels) have with migrant workers. Terms and conditions of residence and work are typically determined by the kafeels.

The inequalities resulting from employer-driven migration governance systems often result in migrant workers suffering from underpayment, non-payment  and delays  in payment of wages and unwarranted additional costs. Low-skilled workers are frequently made to work in arduous conditions for longer hours than envisaged by the law, without overtime payments. They may be deprived of weekly rest, annual or home leave or subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

In the Middle East, there are some 600,000 forced labour victims and 3.4 in every 1,000 of the region’s inhabitants are compelled to work against their free choice.

Arab Governments have signalled their interest in reforming the kafala system and taken steps to improve the working and living conditions of national and foreign workers. This project aims to make clear the benefits of embedding migration governance in strategies for the nationalization of the labour force and, more generally, in socio-economic policies.


The project underscores the ILO’s commitment to technical cooperation in the field of labour migration. It complements other regional projects focussed on decent work for domestic workers, and eliminating forced labour and human trafficking.
Its main objectives are to:
  • Enhance information and mechanisms to formulate labour migration policies in target countries;
  • build the capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and the media to better protect and extend services to migrant workers; and
  • develop of effective mechanisms to respond to cases of forced labour and trafficking.

Main Activities

The project aims to improve the governance and protection afforded to male and female migrant workers in different sectors through activities focussed on:
  1. Regional data management;
  2. research and policy reform;
  3. service delivery to migrant workers; and
  4. capacity training programmes for key stakeholders.


Enhanced information and mechanisms available for the formulation of labour migration policy by target countries:
  •  Advisory services contribute to influencing migration policy or the regulatory framework for recruitment in at least one country;
  •  government officials in target countries are able to translate labour migration studies into policy options and reform proposals;
  •  decision makers employ the database provided on the MENA MAGNET Research Portal to review migration trends and policies, ultimately leading to an independent policy dialogue between origin and destination countries; and
  •  official statistics are improved through better sample design in national household surveys.
Better protection and services are extended to migrant workers through the increased capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and the media:
  • An action plan for inter-regional cooperation is signed and implemented between trade unions in countries of origin and destination
  • the capacity of trade unions to assist migrant workers in at least one country is increased;
  • increased capacity of civil society organizations to provide better services to women migrant workers in at least two countries;
  • coverage of labour migration and human trafficking in the Arab media is expanded and qualitatively improved.
Governments develop effective mechanisms to respond to cases of forced labour and trafficking:
  • Policy coherence is achieved through effective mechanisms to implement national laws and regulations put in place by national institutions (governments, legislative bodies, social partners organizations and embassies of countries of origin).


Policymakers, (Ministries of Labour, Interior and Justice), trade union representatives (countries of origin and destination), civil society organizations involved in service delivery to migrant workers, labour attachés and welfare officers of countries of origin, law enforcement officials, media professionals, and academics.


Government, workers and employers, and migrant workers.