Migrant workers are an invisible part of society. They are people who have migrated to other countries to pursue work because of the lack of jobs in their country. These workers are usually low skilled and thus, must resort to manual labor jobs where they are often exploited.
Ali’s entrance in Squid Game shows the harsh life of migrant workers and how they are exploited and taken advantage of because of their helpless position in society.
In Squid Game, Abdul Ali is paid poorly by his employer. He came to Korea to feed his family through a good stable job, but fate had other things in place for him. Ali worked hard in the factory, but his employer never gave him his salary for the hard work he did. He felt emboldened to do this because Ali was a migrant worker.
Ali showcases the story of every exploited migrant worker, they come to another country for the hopes of a better future, but reality hits them and they realize that to survive they must resort to manual labor jobs where the working conditions are poor, and employees are treated as inferior to the people in the country.
In the show, Ali constantly calls everyone ‘sir’ and ‘madam,’ even when he is playing the games, showing respect to everyone. It showcases the inferiority Ali goes through in front of the Koreans, he does not believe he is on the same level as them.
Likewise, many migrant workers around the world go through this inferiority and discrimination
They are constantly abused and the mere wages they receive after begging their employees for their rightfully earned livelihood can put anyone to shame.
Ali provides a look into the general life of migrant workers and his footing in the show creates a wider visibility and opportunity for discussion of the exploitation of migrant workers around the world.
There is immense migrant worker exploitation in Middle Eastern countries, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“90 % of UAE’s over 9-million-strong population consists of foreign nationals—most of whom are low-wage and semi-skilled workers from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere in the Middle East—the country’s economy is heavily dependent on migrant workers” said a report by Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.
Likewise in Saudi Arabia, “there are approximately 10 million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, spread over most sectors of work, especially the energy and service sector,” said a report by Human Rights Watch.
These Middle Eastern countries depend on migrant workers to run their economy and country, yet they are not respected and acknowledged in any way.
In the Middle Eastern countries, many Bengalis, Pakistanis, Indians, Ethiopians, Indonesians, and people from low-developing countries come to the Middle East for the hope of a good job; but end up doing meager jobs that the general population would be ashamed to do, so they are forced to take these “scrap” jobs.
In these countries, workers sign their lives away to contracts that they have little to no knowledge of because of their illiteracy that the employers take advantage of.
The workers in these countries live in terrible, deteriorating conditions, are forced to work long hours in cramped labor camps, and have low infrequently paid wages.
This image shows a tired migrant worker in Dubai, and it is seen that they do hard labour jobs that the Emirati populations would not do.
As stated by Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, “the workers inevitably fall into situations of debt bondage and find themselves compelled to accept the terms and conditions imposed on them. This is particularly common among construction, domestic, and lower-level service workers.”
Therefore, there is a common notion of Dubai being called a “fake city.” It is said that to see the true Dubai, a person should travel out of the city’s boundaries, full of migrant workers toiling day and night to create the city.
Everything seems to be perfect in Dubai, and it is unfortunate that the migrant workers are seen as an embarrassment and are kept far away from the city’s boundaries to not disturb the “rich privileged folks.”
In terms of Saudi Arabia, I have been to the country three times in my life, and there are an abundance of migrant workers that are treated poorly and are invisible in society.
Many migrant workers work in the hospitality sector in Makkah and Madinah, mainly work as hotel janitors, construction workers, and farm workers. From my view, they are treated poorly and are taken for granted.
Many of the workers are from South-Asian countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and others from Indonesia, and Malaysia to name a few.
When I walked the streets of Saudi Arabia, I would see many workers in their uniforms working hard and toiling in their jobs, while being neglected from society and treated badly.
I am guilty of treating them badly on one occasion; when I went to Saudi Arabia for the first time, I was in the fourth grade. In the hotel I stayed in, there were many migrant workers doing their job as janitors.
I had a hotel neighbour and she became my friend, and one day she proclaimed that one of these workers said something explicit to her. As kids, for fun, I went to the owner to complain and see their reactions.
Oh boy! Do I regret that!
In a couple of minutes, the worker was right in front of us, and he was held by his collar and was being abused and was forced to apologize to the girl. On noticing his expressions, I noticed that he was innocent, and, in the end, the girl confessed that she misunderstood the worker.
To this day, his innocent and fearful face haunts me; the shame and embarrassment he had to go through because of being a migrant worker is like the shame Ali must go through because of being a migrant worker in Korea.
If it was a person of higher status, I doubt they would have been held like an animal by their collar and barked at to apologize. They can be taken advantage of because there are virtually no proper rights for migrant workers. Thus, this is an issue that needs to be discussed in a global context because their human rights are being neglected.
Migrant workers are humans as much as others. They are treated badly and seen as inferior in many countries. They are taken advantage of because of their situations, and they are forced to compromise to earn their meager daily bread and butter.
Ali’s introduction in the show provides a glimpse of the lives of migrant workers and it stresses to emphasize the brutal reality of these workers and the respect and awareness that should be provided towards these workers. Main actions should be taken in Middle Eastern countries, primarily the UAE and Saudi Arabia where they sign their freedom away and compromise their self-worth to feed their families.
“I am a migrant worker
I am a human
being with rights
Just like any other.
I am not a slave,
or a commodity.
To be ordered