The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 28

28
DECEMBER 2013
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Laura Merzig Fabrycky is a Foreign Service spouse. She has resided in
Doha, Qatar and Amman, where she worked as a part-time Eligible
Family Member. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
What makes the kafala system so morally unsettling
is the way it exploits vulnerable populations while
claiming to be a benign safety net for them.
BY LAURA MERZ I G FABRYCKY
RETHINKING THE ROLE OF ‘MADAM’:
KAFALA AND THE U.S.
FOREIGN SERVICE
I
am the spouse of a Foreign Service officer and the mother
of two young daughters. During our recent tours in Qatar
and Jordan, our family employed women to work in our
home, which enabled me to volunteer and work part time
outside of our home. They kept our apartment clean and
tidy and, most importantly, they cared lovingly for our
children.
Their presence in our home, like our embassy-issued
furniture, was also utterly ordinary. Employing domestic
workers—nannies, housekeepers, cooks or garden-
ers—during an overseas posting in the Middle East (and
elsewhere) is common for Foreign Service families. Even our
previous embassy’s Community Liaison Office handbook speaks
of domestic help as “one of the perks of living abroad.”
In the Middle East, this “attractive” domestic-employee
FEATURE
relationship is part of the larger kafala system for non-immigrant
workers from other countries. Fromwhat I observed, it is a
system in which the laws governing how domestic employees are
treated are deliberately weak and their enforcement universally
pathetic. The result is a morally suspect arrangement in which
thousands of mostly South and Southeast Asian “guest workers”
are trapped.
The culture of kafala horrifies me, but during our years in the
Middle East, I also came to see myself as a full participant in it. I
amwriting about that personal dilemma in the hope of spurring
a conversation within the Foreign Service community that might
lead to more constructive, sustained moral reflection and action
among other Americans and expatriates on this topic.
How I Understand Kafala
Kafala, the Arabic word for sponsorship, is the legal system by
which many Middle Eastern countries, in the Persian Gulf and
elsewhere, permit entry to non-immigrant laborers—typically
from India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Indonesia. Through a
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