Media-Friendly Glossary on Migration: Middle East Edition

Terminology | 20 January 2017
Welcome to the Media-Friendly Glossary on Migration: Middle East Edition. This glossary serves as a guideline for journalists and other actors writing about migration across the Middle East. Globally the migration debate has become increasingly negative. Our words matter more than ever. Use this glossary to make sure that your words are not discriminatory or inflammatory, that your reporting is accurate, and that you are considering the full range of diverse issues inherent in the migration debate. Noting that terminology is dynamic, particularly within the highly politicised topic of migration, this glossary is seen as ‘living’, and will be periodically updated. Please send any feedback or enquires to

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To 'abscond' is to run away or escape secretly, typically to avoid detection or arrest. Within the context of migrant workers in the Arab states 'absconding' is a term often used by authorities to refer to migrant workers, especially migrant domestic workers, who leave their employer/sponsor without permission. Under the kafala sponsorship system, to leave the sponsor without permission pushes the migrant worker into an irregular situation, subject to arrest, detention or return to the employer by authorities or recruitment agencies. This also applies to workers who have escaped an exploitative or abusive situation. The term ‘absconds’ criminalizes the act of resigning or escaping abuse. It is preferable to use the term in quotation marks (‘absconded’) and to always analyse the situation in which the worker left the employer. (Arabic: الفرار)

Asylum seeker

An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. An asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. In many cases, refugees and asylum seekers are treated as migrants in an irregular situation and are subject to arbitrary detention, arrest and deportation due to the lack of legal status.  (Arabic: طالب اللجوء)

Bilateral agreements

Bilateral agreements within the context of labour migration are legally-binding treaties between a country of origin and a country of destination outlining the agreed terms, principles, and procedures governing labour migration between the two states. For destination countries, bilateral agreements help achieve an orderly flow of migrant workers that meets the needs of employers and industry. For the countries of origin, bilateral agreements ensure continued access to overseas labour markets and opportunities to promote the protection and welfare of their workers. (Arabic: الاتفاقات الثنائية)

Brain drain

Emigration of skilled individuals from their country of origin to another country, typically for higher wages or better working conditions. (Arabic: هجرة الأدمغة)

Brain gain

Immigration of skilled individuals into the destination country. Also called ‘reverse brain drain’. (Arabic: كسب الأدمغة)

Child labour

Child labour deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, and interferes with their schooling. In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets.

Not all work done by children is classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families, they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.

At the international level, agreement regarding a permissible minimum age for employment was reached in 1973 through adoption of the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), while the persistence of worst forms of child labour was highlighted in 1999 by adoption of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). (Arabic: عمالة الأطفال)

Circular migration

Circular migration refers to temporary movements of a repetitive character either formally or informally across borders. Managed or regulated circular migration programmes have emerged as a migration policy tool to mitigate the effects of brain drain and promote development in origin countries through a steady flow of remittances, return of skilled workers, and support for enterprise development. (Arabic: الهجرة الدائرية)

Citizenship (or nationality)

Citizenship of a state is a form of legal identity. States have the sovereign right to define eligibility for citizenship and determine nationality laws. While all human beings enjoy rights under international law, in practice the legal bond of citizenship serves as the basis for the exercise and enjoyment of numerous human rights including access to education, healthcare, employment, participation in political processes and equality before the law. Citizenship can be conferred at birth, or granted through naturalization or other means. Individuals and groups can lose their citizenship or have it revoked, and they may become stateless as a result (see stateless person). Individuals may have the citizenship of more than one country.

Citizenship laws may be discriminatory towards women. Women often do not have the same right as men to pass on their nationality to their children or foreign spouses. This can result in a range of restrictions for their children and foreign spouses, including in their ability to study, work, travel, access healthcare and to fully participate in society. (Arabic: المواطنة أو الجنسي)

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining refers to all negotiations which take place between an employer (or a group of employers or an employers' organisation) and a workers' organisation for the purpose of determining working conditions and terms of employment, or regulating relations between employers and workers or their respective organizations. At the international level, the development of mechanisms for voluntary negotiations on employment conditions between employers and workers’ organizations was first encouraged by an ILO convention adopted in 1949, referred to as the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98). See Freedom of association. (Arabic: المفاوضة الجماعية)

Contract substitution

The practice whereby the terms of employment to which the worker originally agreed upon (in writing or verbally) are substituted with another contract with less favourable terms – such as lower pay, poorer working and living conditions, and even a different worksite or job. This practice is illegal. Furthermore, under the kafala sponsorship system, contract substitution may place the worker in a position of irregularity (if they work for an employer other than the one listed on their visa or work permit).
(Arabic: استبدال العقد)

Country of destination

Country of destination or destination country are the most neutral and accurate terms to refer to the country in which a person intends to live or work. (Arabic: دولة المقصد)

Country of origin

Country of origin is a neutral and accurate term to refer to the country from where a migrant, asylum seeker or refugee originated. It is preferable to 'sending country' or 'home country'. (Arabic: دولة المنشأ)

Debt bondage

Debt bondage – or bonded labour – is a position whereby a worker becomes bound to work for an employer as a means of repayment for a loan. Labourers may be working in an attempt to pay off an incurred or sometimes even inherited debt. The debt can arise from wage advances or loans to cover recruitment or transport costs or from daily living or emergency expenses. Employers or recruiters make it difficult for workers to escape from a debt by undervaluing the work performed or inflating interest rates or charges for food and housing. Debt bondage reflects an imbalance of power between the worker-debtor and the employer-creditor, and is an indicator of forced labour. It has the effect of binding the worker to the employer for an unspecified period of time, anything from a single season, to years, or even successive generations. The imbalance of power between worker-debtor and the employer-creditor could render any debt-based labour relations unfree, regardless of the duration of the loan. It is concretely different to taking a normal loan from a bank or other independent lender, for repayment on mutually agreed and acceptable terms. (Arabic: عبودية الدين)

Decent work

Decent work is a concept encompassing opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men. Decent work is a key element to achieving fair globalisation and poverty reduction. The achievement of decent work requires job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective. (Arabic: العمل اللائق)


Deportation is the act of expelling or removing a foreign national from a country, either to the country of origin or to a third country. While migrants should always have access to legal representation and opportunities to appeal their deportation with suspensive effect, these procedural safeguards are not always guaranteed. In some cases, migrants are deported by force, or other forms of coercion. See also immigration detention, non-refoulment and voluntary repatriation. (Arabic: الترحيل)


Diaspora refers to a people or an ethnic population that leave their traditional ethnic homelands, or countries of origin, and are dispersed throughout other parts of the world. Diaspora are also broadly defined as individuals and members of networks, associations and communities who have left their country of origin but maintain social, economic and political links. This concept covers settled communities, migrant workers temporarily based abroad, people with the citizenship of the origin or destination country, dual citizens, and second-/third-generation migrants. (Arabic: الشتات)


Discrimination includes any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, or national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity and treatment in employment or occupation, as defined by the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111). Discrimination in employment can be direct or indirect. Indirect discrimination occurs where rules or practices appear to be neutral but in practice lead to exclusions. For example, training courses organized outside normal working hours are likely to exclude workers with caregiving responsibilities. Workers who receive less training are then likely to be disadvantaged in subsequent job assignments or promotion prospects. See also equal opportunity. (Arabic: التمييز)

Domestic worker

A domestic worker is an individual who performs domestic duties such as cleaning, cooking and care work (children, elderly and disabled) in a household within an employment relationship (i.e. paid work). Domestic workers also include gardeners, security guards and drivers. Domestic workers may be men or women, and are commonly migrant workers. Often domestic workers reside within the household of the employer(s). In 2011 the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) was adopted, extending a full range of labour rights protections to domestic workers. The term domestic worker is preferred to 'domestic helper', 'maid' or 'servant' because it underscores that domestic work is work, and that a domestic worker has labour rights. (Arabic: العامل المنزلي)

Economic migrant

‘Economic migrant’ is not a legal classification, but rather an umbrella term for a wide array of people that move from one country to another to advance their economic and professional prospects. The term is used to distinguish ‘economic’ migrants from refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced persons within broader mixed migration flows. It most often refers to the unskilled and semi-skilled people from less developed or conflict affected countries. It might at times have a generally negative connotation – aiming to distinguish ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ people within mixed migration flows.
(Arabic: المهاجر الاقتصادي)

Entertainment work(er)

The entertainment sector covers a broad range of work within the hospitality and service sector. Hospitality work alone (taking orders, serving food and drinks and clearing tables) is not generally considered as entertainment work unless there is an element of diversion or amusement present. This might involve workers providing company to clients (while they drink and/or play games or gamble), giving massages, singing or dancing. While men work in this sector, workers are predominantly women.

Sex work is a prevalent factor in the entertainment industry, and is present in many forms and to varying degrees. Sexual services are provided both within and outside of entertainment establishments (nightclubs or bars), which can heighten the confusion and conflation between entertainment work and sex work, resulting in the work and workers being erroneously treated interchangeably. See sex work(er).
(Arabic: العمل/العاملون في مجال الترفيه)

Environmentally displaced person

Environmental variables are increasingly influencing patterns of movement from areas suffering from conflict, poverty and instability by exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities. Environmentally displaced persons are people who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or chose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad. In some cases, environmental variables can also trap people and limit their movement. (Arabic: النازح لعوامل بيئي)

Equal opportunity

Equal opportunity in the world of work refers to equal entitlements in pay, working conditions, employment security and social security. Millions of women and men around the world are denied access to jobs and training, receive low wages, or are restricted to certain occupations simply on the basis of their sex, disability, skin colour, ethnicity or beliefs, without regard to their capabilities and skills. See discrimination. (Arabic: تكافؤ الفرص)

Ethnicity and Race

Ethnicity refers to a social group that shares common language, ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences. Race refers to a group of people who share similar and distinct physical characteristics. Race is often associated with biology, while ethnicity is associated with culture. (Arabic: الانتماء الإثني والعرق)


An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing outside of the country of which the person is a citizen. The person may be working or not. The word comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("country, homeland"). The usage of the term denotes a certain racial/ethnic, class and wealth structure, as in common usage expatriate is used in reference to professionals or skilled workers from western countries, while migrant worker or immigrant is adopted when referring to migrant workers in manual labour. (Arabic: الوافد)

Forced labour

Forced labour refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to authorities. It is defined by the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” Forced labour can occur where work is forced upon people by State authorities, by private enterprises or by individuals. The concept of forced labour is quite broadly defined and thus covers a wide range of coercive labour practices.

Forced labour is different from sub-standard or exploitative working conditions. Various indicators can be used to ascertain when a situation amounts to forced labour, such as restrictions on workers’ freedom of movement, withholding of wages or identity documents, physical or sexual violence, threats and intimidation or fraudulent debt from which workers cannot escape. Forced labour can result from internal or international movement which renders some workers particularly vulnerable to deceptive recruitment and coercive labour practices. It also affects people in their home areas, born or manipulated into a status of bondage or servitude. Forced labour includes forced sexual services. In addition to being a serious violation of fundamental human rights, the exaction of forced labour is a criminal offence.

Forced labour, debt bondage, and trafficking in persons are closely related terms although not identical in a legal sense. Trafficking in persons can also be regarded as forced labour. The only exceptions to this are cases of trafficking for organ removal, forced marriage or adoption, unless the latter practices result in forced labour. (Arabic: العمل القسري)

Forced migration and voluntary migration

Forced migration is not a legal concept. The term describes the coerced departure of a person from his/her home or country. Examples of this type of coercion could include environmental or natural disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, trafficking, war, armed conflict, serious disturbances of public order or the inability or unwillingness of a State to protect the human rights of its citizens. Voluntary migration describes when people move of their own free will. However, as human mobility becomes more global and frequent, the traditional distinction between forced and voluntary migration has become less clear cut. This leads to an increasingly compelling argument to address the rights of refugees and migrants in a holistic way regardless of their motives for leaving their country of origin or their legal status.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the important distinctions between refugees – who cannot return to their place of origin even if they want to and they accordingly are owed specific protections under international law – and migrants. Migrants are protected by international human rights law. This protection derives from their fundamental dignity as human beings. Promoting the human rights of migrants is compatible with upholding the existing framework for refugee protection. See mixed migration. (Arabic: الهجرة القسرية والهجرة الطوعية)

Forcibly displaced persons

There is no internationally agreed upon definition of a forcibly displaced person, however the term refers to those who are displaced but do not meet the definition of a refugee as defined by international law. Forcibly displaced persons are the millions of people who are forced to move due to a number of reasons such as armed conflict or natural disasters, environmental degradation, or human rights violations including as part of  mixed migration flows. The wider scope of the term forcibly displaced persons captures the complex and multivariate drivers and processes which characterize contemporary displacement dynamics and includes both refugees and other categories of persons coerced to move. (Arabic: المشردون قسرا)

Fragile state

A fragile state is a country trapped in or recovering from violent conflict or crisis. Fragile states have weak state capacity which leaves citizens vulnerable to social, political and economic shocks. Fragility impacts negatively on economic growth, social development and job creation, which also have the potential to aggravate state fragility and further hamper prospects for growth and stability. Although the root causes of fragility vary, inequality, weak social services, lack of decent work opportunities and social exclusion are common characteristics of fragile situations. Fragility does not just refer to individual states but can also refer to pockets of fragility within or across borders. State fragility and the related instability may create 'spill-over effects' and contribute to the destabilization of neighbouring States and regions. (Arabic: الدولة الهشة)

Free visas

Free visas are work visas where there is a sponsor, but no employment on arrival. The sponsor named on the visa does not actually employ the worker, and the worker will therefore work for an employer other than that named on their visa – pushing them into an irregular situation. Migrant workers may or may not be aware of this practice before their departure for the destination country. Workers who engage in the practice typically pay the sponsor listed on their visa a significant amount of money to maintain this relationship. Sometimes, fake companies are registered simply to obtain and trade free visas. If unaware about the free visa, the practice amounts to deception, fraud and the worker may be rendered a victim of trafficking. This is an illegal practice in most Arab States. (Arabic: التأشيرات المجانية)

Freedom of association

Freedom of association is a fundamental human right and is also at the core of the ILO’s values. In the area of employment, it is the right of workers and employers without distinction whatsoever, and subject only to the rules of the organizations concerned, to form and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization. These organizations that work to further and defend their interests are known as trade unions. In some countries, certain categories of workers, such as public servants, workers in Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ), domestic workers or migrant workers, are denied the right of freedom of association; workers’ and employers’ organizations are illegally suspended or interfered with; and in some extreme cases, trade unionists are arrested or killed. Workers should be protected from anti-union discrimination, and in particular against refusal to employ them because of their union membership or participation in trade union activities. At the international level, the right for workers and employers to establish and join organizations is enshrined in the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87). See collective bargaining and trade union. (Arabic: حرية تكوين الجمعيات)

Freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right encompassing the right to leave any country; the right to enter and remain in your home country; and the right to freedom of movement within the territory of the state of residence or employment. The right therefore encompasses both international and internal movement.

The right to freedom of movement is challenging under the kafala sponsorship system. The sponsor/employer may be able to control the mobility of the worker by withholding their identity and travel documentation, and by controlling their ability to move to another employer or to exit the country. Domestic workers may be restricted from leaving the premises of the workplace (the employers’ home), even on their day off. (Arabic: حرية التنقل

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence refers to any act against a person on the basis of his or her gender or perceived gender that results in , or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.  Migrants and refugees are particularly vulnerable to sexual- and gender-based violence at the hands of employers, recruitment agencies, spouses and family members, law enforcement authorities, including policy and customs officials and judicial officers, and human traffickers.
(Arabic: العنف القائم على النوع الاجتماعي)

Global supply chains

A global supply or value chain is the international network of companies or activities that work to develop, produce and deliver a product to consumers. Challenges arise when lead firms make investment and sourcing decisions that affect working conditions in their global supply chains, without being directly responsible for the employment of the workers. Pressure on prices and delivery times and intense competition between suppliers can lead to downward pressure on wages, working conditions, and respect for the fundamental rights of the workers participating in the chains. Because the scope of labour legislation, regulation and jurisdiction is at the national level, cross-border sourcing of goods and services creates difficulties in monitoring and regulating conditions in global supply chains. (Arabic: سلاسل التوريد العالمية)


Harassment refers to any kind of emotional or physical abuse, persecution or victimization. Harassment in the workplace is characterized by persistent negative attacks of a physical or psychological nature on an individual or group of employees, which are typically unpredictable, irrational and unfair.

Sexual harassment can be defined as sex-based behaviour that is both unwelcome and offensive to its recipient. Sexual harassment can be physical (physical touching, unnecessary close proximity), verbal (comments and questions about appearance, lifestyle or sexual orientation), or non-verbal (whistling, sexually-suggestive gestures, display of sexual materials).

Sexual harassment in the workplace may manifest in situations where a job benefit – such as pay rise, promotion, or even continued employment – is made conditional on the victim acceding to demands to engage in some form of sexual behaviour. A hostile working environment in which the conduct creates conditions that are intimidating or humiliating to the victim is another form of sexual harassment in the workplace. The latter often reflects the power dynamics between the employer/manager and the employee, or between different employees. (Arabic: التحرش)

Host community

A host community is a community, or individual family households, that temporarily host and share private and public resources with populations of refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). Shelter is provided within defined temporary shelter sites, public buildings (camps or collective shelters) or in individual homes or residences. It is important when addressing protection of refugees and IDP to include the needs of the host communities, often already vulnerable, and who can be made even more so as a consequence of incoming IDP. (Arabic: المجتمع المضيف)

Identity, travel and work documents

Identity, travel and work documents, such as a passport, national or ‘foreign national’ identity card, and work or residency permits are migrants’ proof of identity, nationality, legal status and right to remain and work in the country of destination. These documents are crucial to the mobility and safety of migrant workers throughout all stages of the migration and employment process. Identity and travel documents should facilitate migrants’ travel and access to health, legal, consular and education services; and are essential for practical processes such as opening a bank account. All individuals, including migrant workers, maintain the right to hold their personal documents, and in some countries, migrants must carry their identity documents or copies with them at all times.

Throughout all stages of the migration process however, a variety of private actors including recruiters, brokers and employers, systematically violate migrant workers’ rights by seizing and holding their identity and travel documents as a means of control. Confiscation of personal documents is illegal under national legislation in some countries in the region. It leaves migrants vulnerable to harassment, arrest and deportation by authorities, and restricts their mobility and freedom of movement. Retention of identity documents is an indicator of forced labour, as withholding of personal documents is often used as a means to prevent workers from escaping or seeking help.
(Arabic: وثائق الهوية والسفر والعمل)

Illegal Migrant

See irregular or undocumented migrant (Arabic: المهاجرون غير النظاميين أو الذين لا يحملون وثائق)

Immigration detention

Immigration detention is the confinement of individuals without regular migration status in prisons or detention centres, temporarily or for indefinite periods of time, while their cases are being processed by the authorities or the courts. According to international human rights standards, immigration detention should be prescribed by law, a measure of last resort, only for the shortest period of time and when no other less restrictive measure is available. States should take steps to implement alternative measures to immigration detention. Children should not be detained based on their migratory status or irregular entry into the country. Under refugee law, refugees and asylum seekers should not be subject to penalties such as fines or imprisonment on account of their illegal entry or presence. (Arabic: احتجاز المهاجرين)

Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)

Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) are persons or groups who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human made disasters, but who have not crossed an international border. Involuntary departure and the fact that the individual remains within his/her country are the two defining elements of an IDP. The second element distinguishes IDP from refugees, as by definition, refugees are outside their country of origin. (Arabic: لأشخاص المشردون داخليا)

Irregular or undocumented migrant

An irregular or undocumented migrant is someone who is not authorized to enter, to stay or to work in the country of destination. Migrants often have little control over the complex factors that determine their status as these frequently come down to administrative circumstances, not necessarily the actions of migrants. Migrants can slip easily from regular to irregular status, often through no fault of their own. For example in the Arab States, migrant workers’ residency and work rights are tied to their individual sponsor under the kafala system. If their employer fails to renew their permits, they will fall into an irregular situation. If a migrant worker works for anyone other than the employer stated on their work permit, or ‘absconds’ they lose their legal right to remain in the country. Other migrants in an irregular situation include people who were trafficked into the country, or people whose asylum applications have been rejected. In countries of origin where there are restrictions on women’s migration, such as sectoral bans or age limits, women are often pushed into irregular migration – increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. Migrants may also move from irregular to regular status, including through amnesty programs.

The prevailing discourse associates irregularity with criminality, and views irregular migration as a security issue. Migrants in an irregular situations are frequently subject to harassment, arrest, detention and deportation and are at risk of forced labour and trafficking. Without legal status in their country of employment they have no or very few avenues for seeking legal redress if their rights are violated. The term irregular is preferable to 'illegal' because the latter carries a criminal connotation, will often be legally incorrect and is seen as denying migrants’ humanity. In the case of asylum seekers and refugees, it also fails to acknowledge the protection afforded by international refugee law against penalization for unauthorized entry or stay to those fleeing conflict or persecution. (Arabic: المهاجرون غير النظاميين أو الذين لا يحملون وثائق)


Kafala is commonly interpreted in English as ‘sponsorship’, although in classical Arabic the meaning is closer to connotations of ‘guarantee’ (daman) and to ‘take care of’ (kafl). Kafala is described in the Arab States as having stemmed from a Bedouin tradition of hospitality, where strangers were considered guests of a local who took legal and economic responsibility for their welfare, as well as for the consequences of their actions. Today, kafala sponsorship is used as a means to regulate migrant labour in many Arab countries. Under kafala, a migrant worker’s immigration and legal residency status is tied to an individual sponsor (kafeel) throughout his or her contract period in such a way that the migrant worker cannot typically enter the country, resign from a job, transfer employment, nor leave the country without first obtaining explicit permission from his or her employer. Kafala has been criticized as creating situations akin to forced labour. (Arabic: الكفالة/الكفيل)

Labour exploitation

Labour exploitation covers a broad spectrum of working conditions and practices that are short of decent work and thus unacceptable. They range from extreme exploitation including forced labour, trafficking and modern slavery at one end, to other unacceptable forms of work. (Arabic: استغلال العمل)

Labour market

A labour market concerns the activities of workers, including migrant workers, looking for employment, employers seeking workers with the right skills, and the determination of wages. The labour market is determined by a number of forces including labour force participation rates of the population; employment by sector (agriculture, industry or services); hours of work; the state of the informal economy; unemployment levels, including youth unemployment; education and skill levels of the labour force; wages; and poverty. These factors create a picture of the wellbeing of workers and the productivity of the economy. (Arabic: سوق العمل)

Labour market mobility

Labour market mobility is generally defined as the movement of workers between occupations or employers, or between geographic locations within a country. Under kafala sponsorship, migrant workers’ labour market mobility is under the control of the kafeel/sponsor. Where (migrant) workers have the freedom to terminate their contract unilaterally and move to a different employer without the approval of the first employer, they are less likely to face situations of forced labour. (Arabic: الحراك في سوق العمل)

Labour migration

Labour migration is defined as the movement of persons from one geographical location to another in order to find gainful employment. Labour migration may be internal, for example rural to urban, or international, across borders. (Arabic: هجرة العمالة)

Labour standards

International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO’s constituents (governments, employers and workers) that set out basic principles and rights at work. The labour standards are adopted at the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference. They are either conventions or recommendations. Conventions are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states, while recommendations serve as non-binding guidelines. Ratifying countries commit themselves to applying the convention in national law and practice and reporting on its application at regular intervals.

The ILO's Governing Body has identified eight conventions as fundamental, covering subjects that are considered as fundamental principles and rights at work. The eight conventions cover the following categories: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. (Arabic: معايير العمل)

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) governing labour migration are non-binding agreements outlining terms and conditions governing labour migration between two states. See also bilateral agreements. (Arabic: مذكرة تفاهم)


While there is no formal legal definition of an international migrant, most experts agree that an international migrant is someone who changes his or her country of usual residence, irrespective of the reason for migration or legal status. Generally, a distinction is made between short-term or temporary migration, covering movements with a duration between three and 12 months, and long-term or permanent migration, referring to a change of country of residence for a duration of one year or more (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs). (Arabic: المهاجر)

Migrant worker

A migrant worker is someone who is working in a state of which he or she is not a national. The term is used interchangeably with labour migrant, and refers to people who migrate specifically for the purpose of employment. It is important to note that in Arabic, 'migration' has a connotation of permanence (whereas in English it concerns both temporary and permanent migration), and Gulf Cooperation Council countries hence prefer to use the term 'temporary contract worker' or 'expatriate worker' over 'migrant worker'.

At the international level, general rules for migration and the rights to be enjoyed by migrant workers are set out in ILO Conventions Nos. 97 and 143 and in the UN Convention on Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990), although only few countries in the region have joined these treaties. (Arabic: لعامل المهاجر)

Migration corridor

A migration corridor is the migratory pathway between two countries in which there is regular and established migration links. (Arabic: ممر الهجرة)

Minimum wage

The minimum wage is the minimum amount that an employer is legally required to pay workers under the law in those countries in which a minimum wage has been established by law. The minimum wage cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract. In other words, even if a worker agrees to be paid less than the minimum wage it is still illegal. The minimum wage applies to all workers in all sectors and types of employment, including informal and migrant workers. The purpose of minimum wages is to protect workers and ensure a just and equitable labour market. Minimum wages are a key tool to overcome poverty and reduce inequality – especially for women, youth and migrants. (Arabic: الحد الأدنى للأجور)

Mixed migration 

The principal characteristics of mixed migration flows include the multiplicity of factors driving such movements and the differentiated needs and motivations of the persons involved. Many migration streams include people who are on the move for different reasons, share the same routes or modes of travel and have varying needs and profiles. They may include refugees, asylum seekers, other forcibly displaced persons, smuggled persons, economic migrants, victims of human trafficking and stranded migrants. People may also move between these categories during the course of their migration. Increasing recognition of complex migration dynamics has led to the rise of the notion of ‘mixed migration’. These mixed migration flows pose a challenge for migration and employment policy, as policy regimes tend to classify migrants by distinct categories, and facilitate entry and determine rights accordingly.  (Arabic: تدفقات الهجرة المختلطة)

Modern slavery

Modern slavery is not defined in law but is commonly used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on specific issues including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking. Often the term may be used to refer to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, abuse of power or more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.

See forced labour.
See human trafficking
. (Arabic: العبودية العصرية)

Money lender

In order to finance recruitment and travel costs, individuals will often turn to money lenders to finance their migration abroad. Money lenders typically charge high interest rates, sometimes between 30 and 60 per cent. (Arabic: مقرض المال)


See citizenship. (Arabic: الجنسية)


The principle of non-refoulement is a core principle of international refugee law that prohibits states from expelling or returning (refouler) a refugee to a place where their life or freedom is threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. This principle is clearly expressed by Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Human rights norms provide additional protection from refoulement to that afforded by refugee law including with regard to situations where there is a substantial risk of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. The principle of non-refoulement is widely recognized as a rule of customary international law and is therefore binding on all states, whether or not they are parties to the 1951 Convention or relevant international human rights instruments. (Arabic: عدم الإعادة القسرية)

Outsourcing agency

An outsourcing agency or company (also called ‘manpower’ companies) operates in a destination country to supply temporary labour to companies for a specific period of time. This is common in the construction sector, but also in services such as cleaning and security. Migrant workers do not receive their wages from the employing company, but from the outsourcing agency, who may take a percentage before paying the worker. In addition to being responsible for paying the workers’ salaries, the outsourcing agency typically provides housing, food and insurance coverage for the workers. (Arabic: وكالة الاستعانة بمصادر خارجية)


The concept of protection has been defined by the Inter Agency Standing Committee as “all activities aimed at ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law” (i.e. human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law). (Arabic: الحماية)

Qualifying Industrial Zones (also known as Export Processing Zones or Special Economic Zones)

A Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) is an industrial estate that specializes in manufacturing for export. These zones are established with special incentives to support free trade and attract foreign investors. Working conditions and industrial relations in these zones often do not meet international labour standards. (Arabic: المناطق الصناعية المؤهلة (المعروف أيضا باسم مناطق تجهيز الصادرات أو المناطق الاقتصادية الخاصة) )


See Ethnicity and race. (Arabic: العرق)


Racism is discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Also see xenophobia. (Arabic: العنصرية)

Recruitment agencies

Migration of workers to the Middle East is increasingly facilitated by an inter-regional network of recruitment agencies. Public and private recruitment agencies, when appropriately regulated, play an important role in the efficient and equitable functioning of labour markets by matching available jobs with suitably qualified workers. Recruitment agencies recruit workers, issue employment contracts, facilitate travel documents and work and residency permits, transport workers, place workers with employers at destination, and facilitate the return to home country of workers if needed. For these services recruitment agencies charge workers and employers, despite the fact that charging of fees to workers is prohibited by international law.

There are increasing concerns about abuses by the international recruitment industry, including deception about the terms and conditions of work and contract substitution, debt bondage linked to the repayment of recruitment fees, retention of passports, illegal wage deductions, and abuse by subagents and other intermediaries who operate outside the legal and regulatory framework. (Arabic: وكالات التوظيف)


Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin and require international protection for reasons of feared persecution, on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group or because of conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order that have forced them to flee. The refugee definition can be found in the 1951 Refugee Convention and regional refugee instruments, as well as UNHCR’s Statute. The Refugee Convention sets out the rights of refugees and responsibilities of states. A person is an asylum seeker until they are determined to be a refugee in accordance with national and international law. This process is called refugee status determination, and is undertaken by UNHCR and/or States. (Arabic: اللاجئ)


Remittances are monies earned or acquired by migrant workers that are transferred back to their country of origin. Remittances may be sent through formal bank transfer systems, often at high expense, or through informal money transfer systems, such as hawala and hundi that are commonly used throughout the Middle East and South Asia. The opportunity to earn high wages and send remittances home is often the primary motivation of migrant workers from poor countries. (Arabic: التحويلات)

Rescue at sea

Rescue at sea is a situation in which a vessel provides assistance to a person or ship in distress at sea. The duty to rescue those in distress at sea is firmly established by both treaty and customary international law. The state responsible for the search and rescue region is primarily responsible for coordination to ensure disembarkation to a place of safety, but it does not have an absolute duty to provide 'a place of safety' itself. In allowing disembarkation, some states might place conditions on the disembarkation that must be met by the flag (home) state, a third state, or an international organisation, such as resettlement, an interview, return, etc.

As well as the law of the sea, states and others undertaking rescue operations must be mindful of their obligations under international human rights and refugee law including the principle of non-refoulement. When asylum seekers and refugees are recovered at sea, the need to avoid disembarkation in territories where their lives and freedoms would be threatened is relevant in determining what constitutes a place of safety. In particular, rescued asylum seekers and refugees must not be returned to a place where their lives or freedoms are at risk, and they must be given an opportunity to seek asylum. (Arabic: لإنقاذ في البحر)


Resettlement is the selection and transfer of refugees from a country in which they have sought protection to another State that has agreed to admit them as refugees and grant them permanent settlement. Resettlement States provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals including eventually access to nationality. Resettlement is one of three durable solutions for refugees, the other two being voluntary repatriation or integration in the host community. (Arabic: إعادة التوطين)

Return and reintegration

Return and reintegration of migrant workers refers to the process whereby migrants return to their country of origin and are reintegrated economically and socially. It can be temporary or permanent, as many migrants may return home for a period (sometimes dictated by the terms of their employment contracts) before migrating abroad again. Return and reintegration policies may include measures to capitalize on the new skills and experience workers have developed abroad; to assist returning workers in setting up small enterprises; or to encourage productive investment of savings. Migrant workers who have faced exploitation, abuse and other traumatic experiences will require psychosocial, health and legal services. (Arabic: العودة وإعادة الإدماج)

Seasonal worker

A seasonal worker is a worker whose timing and duration of work is significantly influenced by seasonal factors such as climatic cycle, public holidays, and/or agricultural harvests. It is common in the agriculture, hospitality and tourism industries. The term 'seasonal worker' is preferred to terms like 'guest worker', which imply a guest-host relationship that is not based on equal labour rights. (Arabic: العامل الموسمي)

Sex work(er)

Sex work is the provision of sexual services in exchange for money or goods, either regularly or occasionally. Sex workers are women, men and transgender people. Use of the term sex work rather than 'prostitution' recognizes that sex work is work. Many people who sell sexual services prefer the term sex worker and find 'prostitute' demeaning and stigmatizing, which contributes to their exclusion from health, legal, and social services. Sex work is different to entertainment work, although the two are often conflated. (Arabic: العمل (العامل) في المجال الجنسي)


Slavery was defined by the 1926 Slavery Convention or the Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery (under the League of Nations) as a legal relationship where a person can be ‘owned’ by another person. While slavery itself is illegal in all countries, remnants of slavery or slavery-like practices continue to exist in the form of forced labour and forced marriage. This has led to the development of the term ‘modern slavery’ which emphasizes the involuntary nature of the relationship. (Arabic:العبودية)

See modern slavery
See forced labour
See human trafficking

Smuggling (of migrants)

Smuggling is the unauthorized transport of a person, with their agreement, across an internationally recognized state border, of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident. Smuggling, contrary to trafficking, does not require an element of exploitation nor coercion (the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 2000). (Arabic: تهريب / المهاجرين )


See kafala (Arabic: الرعاية)

Stateless person

A stateless person is someone who is not a citizen of any country either because s/he never had a nationality or because s/he lost it without acquiring a new one. Statelessness can occur for several reasons, including discrimination against particular ethnic or religious groups, or on the basis of gender; the emergence of new States and changes in borders between existing States; and gaps in nationality laws. Stateless people may have difficulty accessing basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. At the international level, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the key international conventions addressing statelessness. See citizenship. (Arabic: شخص عديم الجنسية)

Stranded migrants

The term stranded migrants is a relatively new term that is yet to be defined in international law. It refers to migrants who “find themselves legally stranded, because they are unable to remain lawfully in the country in which they are physically present, or move to another country, or return to their home country” (IOM). Migrants may become stranded in transit, destination countries, or in border areas. Migrants become stranded in different ways, with a range of implications for their legal status, personal safety, security and wellbeing. They are vulnerable to human trafficking, detention and deportation if they cannot regularize their status. (Arabic: المهاجرون الذين تقطعت بهم السبل)

Temporary contract worker

Temporary contract worker is the preferred term for migrant worker in the Arab States. It signifies the temporary, contractual nature of labour migration to the region. See migrant worker. (Arabic: عامل بعقد مؤقت)

Trade union

A trade or labour union is an organization that is established and managed by workers to represent workers’ interests. Trade unions may be sectoral, national or exist within enterprises. One of the main purposes of a trade union is to engage in collective bargaining with employers. See freedom of association and collective bargaining. (Arabic: نقابة العمال)

Trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” (The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, 2000, Art. 3(a)).

Trafficking in persons must meet the three criteria of act (recruitment or transportation), means (by threat, abduction or deception) and purpose (exploitation). Trafficking in persons can take place within one country, or across international borders. Child trafficking slightly differs, as the element of ‘means’ are not considered. Human trafficking can be viewed as a subset of the broader issue of forced labour.  (Arabic: لإتجار بالبشر)

Unaccompanied and separated children

Unaccompanied children (also called unaccompanied minors) are children who have been separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for their welfare. Separated children are children who are separated from both parents or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver but not necessarily from other relatives. A child is defined as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier” (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights).

Children may become unaccompanied or separated because of persecution of the child or the parents, due to conflict and war, trafficking in various contexts, or the search for better economic opportunities. Unaccompanied and separated children face greater risks of sexual exploitation and abuse, military recruitment, child labour, and detention.
(Arabic: لأطفال غير المصحوبين والمنفصلين عن ذويهم)

Undocumented migrant worker

See irregular or undocumented migrant. (Arabic: عامل مهاجر لا يحمل وثائق)


A person harmed as a result of crime, accident, or another event or action. For example a victim of human trafficking or assault. Victims may prefer to be referred to as survivors. (Arabic: الضحية)

Visa trading

Visa trading is a practice whereby employers or companies apply for and obtain more work visas than the jobs they have available, with the intention of ‘warehousing’ workers in labour camps or other accommodation sites until the visas can be traded and the workers can be placed in jobs. During the period in which the workers are ‘warehoused’, they are not working and therefore not being paid. The practice may also place workers in an irregular migration situation if they end up working for someone other than the sponsor listed on their visa. This practice is illegal in the Arab States. (Arabic: تجارة التأشيرات)

Voluntary repatriation

The repatriation of refugees to their home country on the basis of a free and informed decision, facilitated under conditions which are conducive to their safe return in dignity and durable reintegration. (Arabic: العودة الطوعية إلى الوطن)

Wage discrimination

Inequalities in wages between men and women, between national and migrant workers, or between migrant workers of different nationalities performing the same work. At the international level, the problem of wage discrimination between men and women is specifically addressed by ILO Convention No. 100. See also discrimination. (Arabic: التمييز في الأجور)


Xenophobia is a fear or hatred of people from other countries/others that are foreign or originate from outside the community or nation. See also racism. (Arabic: رهاب الأجانب)