Reflections on the Role of Law in the Gulf Migration System

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This paper, grounded in a series of ethnographic projects concerned with transnational labor migration to the Arabian Gulf states, commences with an overview of the Indian Ocean migration system that shuttles tens of millions of temporary workers to and from the wealthy Gulf states. The remainder of the paper comprises two assertions and evidence to support them. First, the paper contends that the symbolic role of law in contemporary Arabia often eclipses its other functions in the region. Second, the paper contends that the demographic terrain of the contemporary Gulf states poses unprecedented challenges for the implementation of law and policies concerning foreign migrants and their presence in Arabia. While the ethnographic evidence presented in this paper is primarily drawn from Qatar, these points can be extrapolated to all six of the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

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