Six Indian workers lie in bunk beds in the middle of a workday. Beyond the four walls of their small room in the United Arab Emirates, their options for maintaining a livelihood are becoming increasingly slim.
Two months ago, they were laid off as Covid-19’s spread dealt a blow to the UAE economy. Since then, they have been confined to their labor camp, surviving on a drip feed of monetary compensation.
Manjit Singh has worked in the UAE for 17 years, enduring tough living conditions to provide a lifeline for his impoverished family back home in India. After the coronavirus started to spread this year, his employer suspended operations, leaving him in limbo. Commercial flights in the UAE were grounded, India went into lockdown on March 24, and Singh stopped receiving an income.
“For the past two months, we have been sitting in the room and our company was giving us a salary, but now they are saying that they cannot give us a salary and we should buy a ticket to go home, but where should we buy the ticket?” the 44-year-old told CNN.
Singh is one of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers across the Gulf’s Arab countries who are contending with stripped livelihoods, overcrowded camps and no easy path to repatriation, Amnesty International, Migrant-Rights.org and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said.
Laborers are also especially vulnerable to the virus, these rights groups say, and the compounds they’re restricted to are considered hotbeds of the pandemic in the region.
In one labor camp on the outskirts of Dubai, hundreds of recently unemployed workers spend their days walking around the yard with their friends concocting plans to go home.
“I have not received the salary for the previous month … they gave 150 Rupees (around $2) for food and told us to manage,” said one construction worker who CNN agreed to not identify due to his fear of punishment by his previous employer.
“We don’t have money to eat. Sometimes the company gives money. Sometimes they give a partial amount. Sometimes no money at all,” said one Indian worker who refused to be named.
With the little money