Yet another Bahraini labor camp has caught on fire this year, leaving 20 workers homeless and nearly dead. Asleep when the early-morning fire broke out, the workers escaped only by jumping onto a neighboring building. None of their belongings could be recovered.
The fire is thought to be caused by an electrical short-circuit in the old building “converted” into labour accommodation. Bahrain’s labor camps are notorious for substandard living conditions, including over-crowdness, cramped spacing unhygienic facilities and other maladies that leave workers at risk for serious injury and health issues; in January, a fire in the same dilapidated area caused 13 deaths and left 120 workers homeless. In May 2012, another fire in a make-shift labor camp killed 10 Bangaldeshi migrants. In the latter case, Bahraini authorities blamed the laborers because they were undocumented and the camp was illegal, ignoring the fact that both documented and undocumented migrants have little choice in housing conditions - poor wages coupled with the absence of affordable, decent housing for laborers constructing the Gulf’s own cities is an unfavorable reality.
Though Bahrain deploys inspectors to determine compliancy with basic housing standards, the consistency, thoroughness, and follow-through of these inspections are evidently lacking. Both pre-emptive and re-dressive measures should be adopted to ensure safe housing conditions for migrant workers; facilities should receive approval prior to the issuance of employment visas and sponsors or labor-complex owners should be held accountable for non-compliance with tangible consequences. The Bahraini government’s regulation of labor accommodation is particularly critical the (still intact) sponsorship system renders it difficult for migrants to leverage for better living conditions without risking their employment.