My biggest regret: Being a migrant worker in UAE
A story of some Migrant Labours, are alone on Eid days and were badly missing their Love ones in Dubai.
Its’ a rare day off for foreman Maqsood and his friends of Pakistani migrant farm workers. They normally work for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. But a heavy downfall during eid vacations all over Dubai and UAE means that work is slow and today they have a chance to relax. The seasonal nature of their work means they rarely stay in one place. For the past five months they have been working and living in the construction company in Sharjah , almost one hours’ drive from Sona Pur Dubai. Soon they’ll move on to another part of rural Dubaito join another project of their company. Ten young Pakistani men sit huddled under tattered quilt, silently staring at their phones. The only source of light comes from the open doorway. Outside three men are cooking chapatis for lunch. They don’t have a cooker though; instead they light a fire in a metal drum lying on its side, disinfect the surface with salt water, and cook the flatbread directly on the metal.
Amir Ali, 25, from Gujarat, Pakistantries to find humour in the situation. “This is like 19th century cooking,” he chuckles. “In Pakistan we don’t live like this, we’d use gas cookers.” One young migrant worker displays pictures on his phone of the family kitchen he left behind – complete with modern worktops and fitted with appliances. He glances at the flaming metal drum and forces a smile. Adnan Ahmed, 20, worked for Razza for three months. A qualified male nurse in Pakistan, he came to UAE hoping to find a better life. But once in Dubai he found himself trapped by closed borders and without a bed or money. He explains that workers are lured to farms with the prospect of plentiful work and a place to stay.
|“Before you arrive you are told that you’ll be able to save a lot of money and send some to your family,” he says. “They say there is a bed for you and food, and that you only need to pay some money for it.”
The 27-year-old pharmacist from Chenab Nagar, Pakistan, worked for a month for a different gang. Initially he was excited when told by a friend that there was a job and a house for him on a farm near Argos. But after a month’s work he had received no money so he and three other men asked their foreman for permission to leave. “[The foreman] and two big guys locked me and my friends in our room,” he says. “He said that because one of my friends owed him money we all had to pay his debt or we wouldn’t leave.” Naveed says he and the other men were held for four days. When they needed the toilet they were escorted by two of the men who had locked them in, to prevent them from escaping. One worker managed to run away and pawned his phone to pay for the bus back to Athens. As Naveed quietly recounts the details, his hands begin to shake. Eventually he and the others were released after a friend in paid the debt. Few workers say they actually receive any of the money they are owed, but they choose to stay for lack of a better option and in order to avoid arrest and deportation.
Adnan Ahmed says that after three months he received none of the 1500 AED he was owed. Other workers say they receive small amounts, just a fraction of their total wages.
“In Pakistan, even our farm animals live better than we do in Dubai,” says Adnan Ahmed.
Gonila Hassnainis a Pakistani journalist who writes for Urdu newspaper Daily Dunya. Gonila is also the founder member of South Asia Women in Media (SAWM) and Council member of Lahore Press Club. Email her at [email protected]