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News > World

COVID-19 Worsens Struggle of Migrant Workers in Gulf States

  • The Gulf region has recorded 16,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 111 deaths.

    The Gulf region has recorded 16,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 111 deaths. | Photo: EFE

Published 14 April 2020
Opinion

“Many people are infected and are staying with other people,” the president of UAE-based Kerala Social Centre Krishna Kumar said. “We are trying to isolate them.”

Human rights organizations are searching for empty buildings in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain is transforming schools in shelters to place workers from crammed work camps, as the coronavirus is fast spreading across the Gulf region, Reuters reported Tuesday.

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The struggle is not limited to overcrowded work camps, where one room with bunk beds can sleep about a dozen workers, the virus has also spread in densely populated commercial districts where many expatriates share housing to save on rent. Many have lost jobs and are struggling.

Indian engineer Mohamed Aslam lives in a three-bedroom apartment in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi with 14 other people. The building was quarantined by authorities after some residents tested positive for the virus.

“The charities are covering the food: dinner, lunch, breakfast,” he told Reuters. “Praise be to God, because of charity we are surviving.”

Like Aslam, millions of foreigners work in the construction, hospitality, retail, transport, and services sectors, being thus at the very foundation of the Gulf states economies.

Most of these states have imposed measures to halt the spread of infection by suspending passenger flights, closing most public venues and imposing curfews.

They said they face a challenge with migrant workers, and some, including the UAE’s Dubai emirate, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait, have locked down areas with a large population of low wage workers. All the states have stepped up testing.

“Many people are infected and are staying with other people,” the president of UAE-based Kerala Social Centre Krishna Kumar said. “We are trying to isolate them.”

Three doctors in the UAE, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said overcrowding is one of the biggest factors for the surge in cases. “We have seen clustered outbreaks in the labor camps,” one of them said.

Several Gulf Arab states have allowed outbound flights for expatriates who lost jobs or been put on leave, but some countries including Pakistan and India say they are not prepared to take them back. The UAE has said it would review labor ties with states refusing to repatriate their citizens.

The region has recorded 16,500 confirmed cases with 111 deaths.

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