The annual number of suicide deaths of Indian migrant workers in the UAE fell by 41% year-on-year in 2008, falling from 118 deaths to 69, according to this recent news report.
The results mark a reverse of the trend that has been seen in the past four years. Between 2005 and 2006 the number of suicides rose from 84 to 109, and then in 2007 the number increased again to 118.
The question is, why do so many resort to suicide?
According Venu Rajamonay, Indian Consul General:
“One of the reasons why suicides happen is that many of the labourers do not have any outlet other than their jobs,” said Rajamonay
“They go out and work in the sun all day, then return to their labour camps where some of them have few friends, and very little to do.
“As a result, some workers turn to drink, and some become depressed, which in some very sad cases has lead to suicide.”
This is just one explaination; another is the crippling debt burdens that many migrant workers end up with when they move to the Gulf. Workers are often charged thousands of dollars by unscrupulous recruitment agents in order to secure a work permit for the Gulf. Often, they will earn less money than originally promised in the contract as recruiters claim 'commissions' and other added extras from their wages. In some cases, the debt is so great that they may never be able to pay it off.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai claims to be looking into a number of measures to help its nationals working in the Emirates:
The Indian consulate has instigated a number of schemes to support its workers in the UAE, including a counselling service, a 24 hour help-line, and various forms of economic aid for the most vulnerable. Meanwhile the UAE government is introducing a range of measures to better protect workers, including new standards across all labour camp accommodation and stamping out illegal recruitment practices.
While the drop in suicides is welcome news, this story still raises uncomfortable questions about why the situation of migrant workers in the UAE has become so fraught with dangers and financial pressures that so many take their own lives.