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Let’s clean up
The Dubai police chief has asked labor ministry officials to ensure the cleanliness and safety in labor camps across Dubai.
April 15, 2009 10:56 by Aarti Nagraj
The Dubai police chief, lieutenant general Dhahi Khalfan Tamim has given directives for municipalities and labor ministry offices in various emirates to “guarantee cleanliness of labor housing”, reports the UAE official news agency, WAM.
Speaking at a meeting of the leaders of labor crises management teams, Tamim said it was important to ensure “adequate standards of cleanliness and safety” in labor camps and penalize any violations. He also stressed the need for field inspections and periodic reports.
He said that owners of private firms had to guarantee their workers a “life in dignity” by meeting their rights.
His remarks come after a spate of reports in the international media, primarily a show on the BBC, which claimed that labor camps in Dubai were filthy and unfit for living.
The international media has been dishing out articles about the poor labor conditions in Dubai for years; in 2005, the BBC published a story entitled Migrants’ woes in Dubai worker camps. The report said that eight to 12 people slept in one bedroom and that the bathrooms were squeezed into cupboards and were shared by 25 men.
In 2007, Time magazine printed an article titled The Dark Side of the Dream; reporters snuck into labor camps in Sonapur and reportedly saw “Piles of garbage sit amid the dirt tracks” and “fetid puddles of raw sewage from leaking pipes.”
Last year, The Guardian‘s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad described the labor camps as “a jumble of low, concrete barracks, corrugated iron, chicken-mesh walls, barbed wire, scrap metal, empty paint cans, rusted machinery and thousands of men with tired and gloomy faces.” In his article, ‘We need slaves to build monuments’, he reported that men eat next to heaps of rubbish, and between 10-20 people live in a single room.
An article in the Associated Press published in 2008 described a room at a labor camp: “The two air conditioners are blackened shells that do little against the summer heat. The floor has a large hole, and the men said the roof leaks when it rains.” The article also said that some camps are not connected to water or sewage grids.
The Dubai government, however, has not been unresponsive to the media’s allegations; in November 2006, the Committee for Environmental and Health affairs of Laborers in Dubai shut-down more than 100 labor camps in Al Muhaisina because they violated the municipality’s regulations. The government monitors the conditions of buildings, sleeping quarters, entertainment areas, dining facilities, drinking water, health services, waste removal, pest control and first aid.
The Committee also said at the time that it established a technical task force from different departments (public health, environment and buildings) to evaluate the conditions and the state of the buildings in some of the older labor camps, and look into building new labor camps that comply with the government’s regulations.
However, in spite of the government’s efforts, conditions in labor camps remain poor. So will Dubai police chief’s decision to group the government’s efforts and improve the cleanliness in labor camps have a long term effort, or is the government merely pacifying the media?