Symptoms Or Not, Migrant Workers Must Work In Gulf Countries
File photo of Indian migrant workers in Qatar

Symptoms Or Not, Migrant Workers Must Work In Gulf Countries

Work on the 2022 FIFA World Cup continues in Qatar, while the UAE’s Expo project too is on, risking lives of migrant workers

Since Monday, Rajeev S, a Keralite migrant worker in Qatar, is afraid to board his company bus.

Unfortunately, there are no options left in front of him.

“There are people from Camp 41. In Camp 41, there are COVID-19 positive workers. Who knows if infected workers are also travelling with us?” Rajeev asked.

On Sunday, Rajeev had talked with his manager about the situation in the camp and had requested to stop work.

“But the manager said, Kalli Valli (no problem in Arabic),” Rajeev said, adding that by Monday COVID-19 positive cases were confirmed in his Camp 44 too.

Rajeev is employed with a security company in Doha and deployed in the Hamad International Airport expansion project.

“They say lockdown in on. But work on major projects like ours and FIFA World Cup 2022 is on. Even if we say we have symptoms, they make us work. We don’t have a place to run away and hide either,” Rajeev added.

As of Tuesday, Qatar has recorded 3428 COVID-19 positive cases and seven deaths.

The same is the story shared by an Indian worker in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Suresh G, a Keralite engineer, who had requested the Indian embassy’s intervention in an Abu Dhabi-based company where he is working, told The Lede that many have symptoms and do not know whether they are infected or not.

“Some 4000 migrants are put on duty. They stay in three different camps which are unhygienic. Many have symptoms. Some were tested positive too. But still, we are forced to work. All those with symptoms travel on the same bus. It’s a very scary situation,” Suresh told The Lede.

Even though Suresh had sought the embassy’s help to compel his company to stop the work at this time of crisis, he has not received any positive response yet.

As of Tuesday, in the UAE there are 4521 cases and 25 deaths.

Migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries - most from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kenya – live in tightly packed, often unsanitary, labour camps – conditions perfect for the spread of COVID-19. Both Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project and the UAE Expo projects are on.

Last month, an outbreak among construction workers in a labour camp in Qatar prompted a swift lockdown of thousands of workers, including workers on infrastructure projects linked to the 2022 World Cup.

This lockdown had led to claims the labour camps have become “virtual prisons” and raised concerns for worker welfare, including that workers do not have access to necessary sanitation, are not being given clear information regarding the outbreak, and are being laid off without wages or a promise of re-hiring.

In February end, The Lede reporter had visited workers’ camps in UAE and had filed a story on March 05 on how migrant workers are afraid of the COVID-19 outbreak in their camps.

File photo of Indian migrant workers in Qatar
Indian Migrant Workers In Gulf Afraid Of Coronavirus Spread

Confirming The Lede’s findings, a fresh report by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) reveals that while some construction companies are taking welcome steps, most are not doing enough to protect these at-risk workers.

And many construction projects appear to be continuing despite the pandemic.

Marti Flacks, Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said that they are deeply concerned that many global construction companies are not acting decisively to protect their migrant workforce in the Gulf, both from the disease or from economic hardship if they become infected.

“FIFA and the Supreme Committee should also look to strengthen their action to protect workers that are engaged on World Cup projects,” Flacks said.

The BHRRC had surveyed 14 construction companies on what steps they are taking to protect migrant workers and half did not respond.

The BHRRC report also reveals that workers at World Cup sites are not always given personal protective equipment (PPE).

Unfortunately, the Supreme Committee, which is in charge of Qatar World Cup projects, had advised workers to bring their scarves for protection if there is a shortage of medical masks rather than companies or government providing them.

Take Back Workers

Meanwhile, last week, the UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) has been studying options to introduce restrictions or quotas for future recruitment of workers from countries that refuse to cooperate with evacuation measures undertaken by the country to repatriate private sector expatriates who wish to return home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

MoHRE is also considering revising labour relations with these countries, which comes after some countries did not respond to requests by their nationals to return home following COVID-19 developments, the Emirates News Agency (Wam) reported.

Wam, cited an official from MoHRE, who said that options are also being looked upon including halting any memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between the ministry and the concerned authorities of non-cooperative countries.

Meanwhile, India's ambassador to the UAE said last Saturday that the country cannot repatriate large numbers of Indians while trying to combat the virus at home.

"Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their hometowns and their families," Pavan Kapoor told the Gulf News daily.

Commenting on the UAE diktats, Biju Lal, Chairperson at the Centre for West Asian Studies in School of International Relations and Politics, MG University, says that migrants’ rights, human rights and global conventions which will guarantee rights are also not respected.

“Countries like UAE follow capitalistic economy order. Such orders are exploitative. Additionally, such countries also stop interventions to correct their anti-workers attitude,” Biju Lal said.

Biju Lal who also has a doctorate in Dignity and Rights of Migrant Malayali Workers in the GCC countries says that countries like UAE should not resort to such aggressive steps.

“Many global tools are not followed by the UAE,” he added.

The Lede has found that under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which most countries have adopted, everyone has the right to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

Governments are obligated to take effective steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.”

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors state compliance with the covenant, has stated that:

The right to health is closely related to and dependent upon the realization of other human rights, as contained in the International Bill of Rights, including the rights to food, housing, work, education, human dignity, life, non-discrimination, equality, the prohibition against torture, privacy, access to information, and the freedoms of association, assembly and movement. These and other rights and freedoms address integral components of the right to health.

Unfortunately, the United Arab Emirates has neither signed or ratified the convention.

"Stay Where You Are"

Meanwhile, Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice Arvind Bobde deferred a hearing of seven cases from stranded Indians that opposed the government’s decision to shut its borders for four weeks, urging Indians to “stay where you are”.

The Supreme Court observed that Indian citizens stranded in various countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic should "stay where they are" after the union government had said it would not be feasible to "selectively evacuate" those who want to return due to various reasons.

A bench headed by Bobde said this while hearing through video-conferencing a batch of pleas seeking evacuation of Indian citizens from different countries including the United Kingdom and Gulf nations.

"People should stay where they are right now," said the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar.

The union government said that the severe risk posed by arrivals from an increasing number of countries affected by COVID-19 is something that the government is seeking to minimise.

Meanwhile, the bench sought a response from the union government on a plea seeking a direction to bring back some 750 fishermen stranded on boats near the Iranian shore due to restrictions imposed globally to contain the Coronavirus pandemic.

It said that two separate petitions, seeking evacuation of Indian citizens from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman - would be heard after four weeks.

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