July 29, 2010

Life as an abandoned worker in the UAE

Source: Aljazeera English
By Dan Nolan inon July 28th, 2010

Photo from Al Jazeera

I've read a lot about the labour camps where the construction workers building Dubai’s dazzling skyline call home but until now, I'd never visited one.

It's virtually impossible to get permission to film inside these camps as they provide images you'll never see on any Dubai tourism brochure.

The only reason we could film the Jose Camp is because the company owner has fled the country leaving 38 workers in a hopeless situation.

You can see their story here:

Still no news as to when they might be given permission to leave or their 10 months of unpaid wages.

The defacto spokesperson for the group is 28-year-old Mohammed Ahktar, a quietly spoken labourer from the Punjab region of Pakistan.

He showed me around the camp which has had no electricity for two months meaning no air conditioning during a brutal desert summer where temperatures can hit 50 degrees Celsius.

When he told me they sleep "upstairs", I thought there was another level to the camp that I hadn't noticed at first.

But as we climbed a rickety ladder (made from 2 sections of a shipping crate nailed together) and stepped up onto the roof, it became clear what the "upstairs room" entailed.

More than a dozen mattresses were laid out on the corrugated iron roof competing for a spot of fresh air with satellite dishes that don't work anymore due to the power being cut off.

They say it's cool enough at night to at least get some sleep, I can only imagine how they survive the days bunkered down in their 3mx3m rooms housing seven people each.

It's a tough way to earn a $220 per month but there were few complaints while they were actually getting paid!

The UAE labour ministry says camps like this are exceptions NOT the norm and they've assisted more than 1,000 other abandoned workers to get some of their unpaid wages and a ticket home.

But the wheels of justice turn slowly - the guys from Jose camp registered their status in a UAE court in March and are yet to hear a thing.

In the meantime they survive on charity provided by a few caring individuals.

One of them is Saher Shaikh, a wealthy British-Pakistani mother of two, who somehow juggles raising children with caring for hundreds of workers.

She's not one to hunt praise for what she does (though she most certainly deserves it) but anyone wanting to support her work can do so via the AdoptaCamp Facebook page.

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