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Two fires in one week claim Gulf migrant lives

On February 28, 2015

A fire ripped through a warehouse illegally housing migrant workers in the al-Mussafah industrial area of Abu Dhabi last week, killing at least 10 workers, The Independent newspaper reported. The fire is believed to have started to a car repair shop, from which it spread so quickly that the workers were killed before firemen could reach the building, the publication said.

Just days later, a blaze in Damman, Saudi Arabia took the lives of five sleeping migrant workers in accommodation at the Naser Furniture Factory, Albawaba News reported. Four are believed to be Bangladeshi nationals.

The bodies of the workers were so badly burned that they could not be identified, a labour attaché from the Bangladeshi Embassy said.

By contrast, a fire last week at The Torch, an 80-storey luxury residential tower in Dubai, did not result in any fatalities, thanks to a swift evacuation of the building, the BBC reported.

The two fires highlight the stark differences between blue-collar migrant workers on the one hand, and wealthy expats and locals on the other, The Sydney Morning Herald's Brian Murphy wrote earlier this week:

It's another window into the parallel worlds for the millions of expat workers in the UAE and other Gulf states. One is glossed by a veneer of privilege and propped up by the belief that life here – endless malls, tax-free salaries, plentiful domestic help – offers more than ever possible at home in the West and elsewhere. The other side is found in places such as Musaffah or the barracks-style camps built to house workers, the vast majority from South Asia drawn by the hopes of making enough money to support families back home..... To be fair, such contrasts are hardly unique to the Gulf, particularly in emerging economic powers such as India and China. But no other place depends as heavily on low-cost foreign labour. Every bigger-higher-grander "vision" – a word much in vogue among the UAE's ruler-builders – literally rests upon the supply of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Fires in accommodation for migrant workers in the Gulf are an all-too-common occurrence: in January 2013 at least 15 workers died in a fire in Bahrain, the latest in a string of similar events in the Gulf kingdom, Migrant Rights reported.