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World News

Gulf migrant workers convert to Christianity in wake of abuse

by Alex Collett

Among migrant groups in the Gulf, Evangelical Christianity is blossoming, due to churches providing low-paid workers aid, after they face abuse, according to pastors and parishioners across the region.

Within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) roughly 30 million migrant workers live in the states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UEA). 

In some of the Gulf states, migrants make up most of the population and about 80 percent of them are employed in hospitality, domestic jobs and construction. 

The Guardian interviewed pastors and parishioners from churches in all six Gulf countries.

From their findings they discovered that migrants, including those from Hindu and Catholic communities, are converting to Pentecostalism, one of the fastest-growing religions on Earth with more than 600 million followers.

Pastor John - who is using a fictitious name, as Gulf governments are suspicious of Christian movements and proselytising is often illegal - said his church was helping migrants who faced financial hardship, exploitation, domestic servitude and sexual abuse.

Pastor John told The Guardian: "Rape is a very, very common problem across the entire domestic help industry and it's not just females - males come to us because they get raped as well."

The news outlet also found that Pentecostal churches are more likely to bring in people from ethnic and national groups, whose governments refrain from taking up cases of human rights violations with wealthy Gulf states, as they fear they will damage generous aid and trade packages.

Instead, spirit-led churches are now acting as their first point of call in a crisis.

In cases of rape, the pastor said, the person would contact the church first, which would then coordinate with the embassy to arrange a way to escape.

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