Dubai's glitz lost in grim life
Migrant laborers have been hit hard since the city's construction boom came to a screeching halt.
(Page 2 of 2)
Dubai disappointed them all.Skip to next paragraph
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Lingaiah's construction project was canceled. Mr. Anjaiah broke his foot in a fall and was fired from his gardening job. And Mr. Sureshkumar lost his cleaning job when the hotel he was working in closed two wings. Their work no longer required, they're now expected to disappear.
"At first it was fantastic," explains Anjaiah. But with no more profits to be made, he plans to return to Kerala and farm mangoes, a family tradition for generations. "I thought I could do something better. But I could not," he says.
For some, just getting home seems insurmountable – and shameful.
"I have nothing," Sureshkumar says quietly, holding his palms up. No money, not even a passport, which was confiscated by the agents who brought him here.
"It is a great shame to go home like this," admits Lingaiah. "But if I stay here, I fear I might go hungry or be thrown in jail. And then I will cause even graver disappointment to my family."
The government does little to remedy the problem, charges Nicholas McGeehan, who as a former oil company contractor in the Emirates from 2002-06 got insight on the issue from within the system.
"The government knows exactly what is going on, because the same guys who run the government own the construction companies and the developers," writes Mr. McGeehan by e-mail from Italy, where he runs an organization called Mafiwasta, which addresses migrant labor issues in the Gulf. He describes the government's treatment of migrants as "ruthless, arrogant, racist, and greedy."
Humaid bin Dimas, a Ministry of Labor spokesman, would "not confirm or deny any statistics" regarding treatment, visa cancellations, or departures from the country. But in a rare statement in April, the ministry said it had "put together a new strategy to improve living and working conditions for labourers," including an offensive against "unscrupulous foreign recruitment agencies."
In the meantime, concerned individuals such as McGeehan are trying to fill in the gaps. Devanapally Shashikala, an Indian doctor, runs a small private charity out of a third-floor apartment in Karama that provides healthcare, food, clothing, and sometimes plane tickets home to the needy migrants. K.V. Shamsudheen, a successful stock broker who started a charity called Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust in 2001, says that in addition to money, the laborers need motivation.
"They feel down and out, and they need to be reminded that it is up to them to get through this," he says. He hosts a popular motivational weekly radio program and also conducts workshops around the Gulf in which he talks about goal setting, saving, and time management.
"I tell them – you must hold your head high.... Do not cry."