News / Middle East

Suffering Lingers at UAE Labor Camps

Dubai laborers cheer for their colleagues at the 2010 'Dubai Idol' competition, 08 Oct 2010
Dubai laborers cheer for their colleagues at the 2010 'Dubai Idol' competition, 08 Oct 2010

Human-rights activists say the conditions for overseas laborers working in the United Arab Emirates have dramatically deteriorated since the beginning of the global financial crisis.

An annual singing competition for workers living in labor camps was held 8 Oct in Dubai, one of seven sheikdoms that make up the UAE.  It came less than a month after Dubai's ruler, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, told Bloomberg News agency that his emirate was "back," shrugging aside any financial problems by saying a life without challenge, "would be boring."

Many overseas laborers in the UAE most likely would disagree.

The majority live in conditions that are, at best, described as challenging - doing backbreaking work for low wages, sleeping in cramped quarters, and sending nearly all of their earnings abroad to support their families.

The joint winner of this year's "Dubai Idol" - Mohsin Khan - is one of them.  After being awarded a cash prize and a new TV, he said he could not wait to tell his family in India what he would be sending them.  "Now I am going to tell them that I won the competition.  So another TV is going to come."

But experts say happy calls home have become much less frequent since Dubai's debt woes began a little less than a year ago.  Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and many have been marooned in camps after economic uncertainty led their employers to flee the country.

A sponsorship system known as Kafala exists in the UAE, which makes it easy for companies to carry out illegal practices, such as confiscating workers' passports and withholding wages.

The scheme has been heavily criticized by a number of human-rights officials, including Dubai researcher Samer Muscati at Human Rights Watch.  To make matters worse, he said many laborers turn to loan sharks to pay illegal recruitment fees and arrive in the UAE heavily in debt.

"Because of the layoffs and the fact that some of these workers are stranded, we are seeing an increase in suicides, where some workers feel the only way out is to kill themselves, hoping that the people who have lent them money will avoid going after their families or their houses back in India and other locations in South Asia," said Muscati.  "Unfortunately, that is not the case; the creditors still go after the families even after the death of migrant workers."

Muscati blames UAE authorities for not doing enough to improve the situation in the country.  "Unfortunately, it does not seem that the government is committed here to fundamentally changing the way that migrant workers are brought in and the way that migrant workers are treated, so I think it is a problem that is going to be here for a while, especially given the economic downturn.  It will make reformation a bit more difficult."

Others, however, say company owners are responsible for the conditions of their employees.

Founder of Adopt-a-Camp, Saher Shaikh, points out that the UAE government is taking steady steps to protect its overseas workforce.  "I do think the Dubai government has been enforcing its laws more stringently, been tougher on them [labor camp owners].  The inspections committee really seeks out knowledge of camps that are not doing well and they go and they slap them with fines, so that is a very positive step on the side of the government that they are trying to get things moving upwards."

Shaikh has been making regular visits to labor camps during the past four years.  Her aim is to create hospitable living conditions for workers by holding small seminars and distributing care packages with things like hair lice shampoo and heat-rash remedies inside.

But she says her job has become much more difficult since Dubai's debt problems were announced.  "I used to love my work.  I still do, but it used to be heart warming.  It used to be English classes for laborers, hygiene workshops and care packages' days and seeing wonderful stuff and doing wonderful stuff and the men's smiles.  And now my work, more than anything else, is heartbreaking because rather than teaching men and enlightening them and expanding their horizons here, and trying to give them a good experience of Dubai, it becomes like a man who is starving.  The top priority for me becomes getting him food, getting him water and seeing men in those conditions is heartbreaking," said Shaikh.

Speaking from her own experiences, Shaikh said only 20 percent of labor camps are in "excellent" condition.

An independent survey published last year showed the majority of foreign construction workers in the UAE thought their current conditions were better than the conditions in their native countries.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More