Migrant workers, including Pakistanis, face hard time in ME

DM Monitoring

NEW YORK:Oil-rich countries in the Persian Gulf region have locked down over-crowded labour camps and areas with large populations of low-wage workers in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving migrant workers stranded and jobless, according to media reports. Here is how The New York Times described the situation: Qatar has locked down tens of thousands of migrant workers in a crowded neighbourhood, raising fears it will become a coronavirus hotbed. Companies in Saudi Arabia have told foreign labourers to stay home then stopped paying them.
In Kuwait, an actress said on TV that migrants should be thrown out ‘into the desert’.
“Many people are infected and are staying with other people”, Krishna Kumar, the president of the UAE-based Kerala Social Center, was quoted as saying in a Reuters’ report from Dubai. “We are trying to isolate them”. Despite measures being taken to contain the spread of coronavirus, such as suspending passenger flights, closing most public venues, and imposing curfews, the number of coronavirus cases in the Arab states has been rising, the report said. Doctors in the UAE, who spoke with the British news agency on the condition of anonymity, said overcrowding is one of the biggest factors for the surge in cases.
The New York Times dispatch, while noting that Gulf countries have long relied on armies of low-paid migrant workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere to do the heavy lifting in their economies, they have also faced longstanding criticism from rights groups for treating those labourers poorly.
“Now, the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, as migrants in Gulf States have found themselves locked down in cramped, unsanitary dorms, deprived of income and unable to return home because of travel restrictions,” Times correspondent Ben Hubbard wrote.
“Some are running out of food and money and fear they have no place to turn in societies that often treat them like an expendable underclass.”
“Nobody called us”, Mohamed al-Sayid, an Egyptian restaurant worker, was quoted as saying. He said he was stuck with seven friends in a one-room apartment in Jeddah, after they lost their jobs.
“Nobody checked on us at all. I am not afraid of corona. I am afraid we all die from hunger.” Noting that lockdowns and the resulting economic downturns have dealt harsh blows to migrant communities across the globe, including in Southeast Asia and inside India, the Times said the sheer numbers and diversity of migrants in Persian Gulf countries mean that damage to their health and finances will echo across continents.
“It is hard to overstate the role of migrant labour in the Gulf, where jobs in construction, sanitation, transportation, hospitality and even health care are dominated by millions of workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere,” the Times said. “They often work and live in substandard conditions to earn more than they could at home.”