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Coronavirus deepens struggles for migrant workers in Gulf countries

A large number of migrants in the Persian Gulf come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The loss of income will not just affect the workers but will also echo across continents in their home countries, which receive billions of dollars in remittances every year.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 14, 2020 5:21:41 pm
Coronavirus, Coronavirus Dubai, Coronavirus Indians in Dubai, Indians in Dubai, Coronavirus migrants, migrants in UAE A security guard on a bicycle wearing a mask rides past a fisherman in the Deira neighborhood of Dubai (AP)

As multiple countries across the globe try to grapple with the lockdown imposed due to coronavirus pandemic, migrants in the Gulf States have been dealt with a harsh blow, a report in The New York Times said. They have been locked down in cramped, unsanitary dorms, without any income and unable to return home due to the travel restrictions.

A large number of migrants in the Persian Gulf come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines. In Qatar, many of them are locked down in a crowded neighborhood, raising fears it will become a coronavirus hotbed. Companies in Saudi Arabia have told foreign workers to stay home — then stopped paying them, the report further added. Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said on April 5 that more than half of its cases of Covid-19, the disease the virus causes, were foreigners.

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In order to contain the infection, many of the countries in the Persian Gulf have imposed lockdowns that have dramatically slowed their economies. This loss will not only affect the workers but will also echo across continents in their home countries, which receive billions of dollars in remittances every year. For more global news, click here

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Although Gulf governments have issued strict stay-at-home orders, some sectors like construction and oil and gas — which employ a lot of migrants — continue to work, potentially exposing workers to the virus. “If it spreads in the camps, it is wildfire, so all of these countries should have an interest in keeping this under control,” said Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch told The New York Times.

READ | Big worry as states brace for new curbs: stranded, restless migrants

A security guard keeps watch over hundreds of taxi cabs parked at the shopping theme park Global Village in United Arab Emirates (AP)

“Crowding is the problem, and washing hands is almost unrealistic,” a Kenyan oil worker in Qatar who shares a room in a company compound with three others, in a ward with only six bathrooms for 450 men. “It is not in any way social distancing,” he said. “It is only God who is protecting people,” he added.

While the governments have announced measures to protect the economies, activists say they aren’t enough for the non-citizen workers. “There is this innate discrimination in the system itself which is suddenly not going to disappear,” said Vani Saraswathi, associate editor of Migrant-Rights.org, an advocacy group. “It is going to get more stark as this crisis keeps growing,” she told The New York Times.

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Two construction workers examine a drainage system with the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in the skyline behind them in Dubai (AP)

The most vulnerable workers, advocates say, are those who freelance in local markets. Women who work as in-house maids often have nowhere to turn if their employers abuse them, and day laborers have no company responsible for their well-being. Lockdowns mean they can’t go out to look for work, or sometimes even to buy food, the report further added.

Saudi Arabia has nearly 5,000 confirmed cases, with UAE following closely with over 4,500 infections. While Qatar has over 3,000 cases, Baharain has 1,367 patients. Oman has 727 infections, according to a database maintained by John Hopkins University

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First published on: 14-04-2020 at 11:02:17 am

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