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UAE: Thousands of Laborers Left to Fend for Themselves

On July 23, 2010

As the global financial crisis hit UAE derailing its real-estate boom, several construction companies that employ foreign workers went bankrupt. As a result, many times the workers are deserted in their over-populated labor camps that are cut off from basic utilities, without any money and the ability to return home.

Several reports in the past few months have addressed this phenomenon, and yet no solution is in sight for many of the workers. The latest Reuters report from a labor camp in the industrial zone in Sharjah described the "collateral damage" of the economic meltdown. The 350 workers in that camp have gone unpaid for the last six to 12 months. Initially they were made to work without pay with promises that they'll be paid later, and after the company went bankrupt, they were left to fend for themselves. Their passports, which were illegally confiscated by their employer, were retrieved by the Indian embassy, but the workers have received no confirmation that they'll be paid their wages or sent home.

The workers subsist on donations, and in other cases buy food on credit. Water, electricity and gas were cut from the camps, and the workers are forced to live without air-conditioning in a 47 degree heat. The workers, who arrive to the UAE after paying exorbitant recruitment fees (between $2000-$4000 with a monthly salary of $217) are unable to pay back their loans, sinking deeper and deeper into debt. This desperation has driven at least one worker to taking his own life.

The UAE labor ministry has been slowly stepping in to solve the problem of stranded workers. Over 1,000 workers have already been paid their wages and sent home, as thousands more await resolution of their dire situation.