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Written at 2021-05-05 11:11:51

Coronavirus in the UAE: Migrant workers from northeast India desperate to get home

India's northeast has always been a place apart and with opportunities limited, many from the area went to the Gulf. Now, they want to return In March, Lunkhel was supposed to start work as a full-time member of the kitchen staff at a luxury hotel in Dubai. The 32-year old from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur had completed six months of training for the job. He felt, finally, that he was going to pursue his "calling". Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. Lunkhel told Middle East Eye that despite initial promises, his contract was not extended and the company offered to pay for his repatriation flight. Two months later, he is now home in New Delhi with his wife and two children. Lunkhel is still one of the luckier ones, as hundreds of migrant workers from India’s northeast await their golden ticket home from the UAE. In April, Emirati authorities announced a complete lockdown of the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including closing restaurants, cafes and malls. Migrant workers across the Middle East have been adversely affected by the lockdowns and ensuing economic crises due to the pandemic - and northeast Indians are no exception. A growing part of the workforce in the service and hospitality industries in the UAE, natives of that region of India say they have been left in the lurch by both Emirati employers and their home country. A growing northeastern expatriate population Connected to the rest of the country through a "chicken neck" land strip 22km wide known as the Siliguri corridor, India’s northeast is often perceived as separate from its "mainland". Natives of this little-known part of India - composed of eight states and surrounded by Nepal, China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh - bear facial features more reminiscent of southeast and east Asians, often leading to them being singled out and discriminated against. In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, several instances have been reported of northeasterners being called "coronavirus", spat on and driven out by landlords in India. Since 1954, the region has experienced bouts of homegrown insurgency by separatist factions and military operations following the partition of India and Pakistan by the British Empire in 1947. Due to a lack of meaningful private infrastructure and limited civil service jobs, hundreds of thousands of northeastern Indians have moved both to the cities in India's mainland and abroad in search of work. For anthropologist and University of Melbourne professor Dolly Kikon, a native of the northeastern state of Nagaland, incidents of casual and violent racism in major Indian cities have compelled a number of residents of the region to move abroad. “Our exposure to the Indian mainland has been quite bitter and very few of us can say that it has been an exhilarating (experience),” she told MEE. “As though state violence and militarisation weren’t enough, living in Indian cities has been another layer of humiliation.” Increasingly in the last decade, booming cities in the Gulf and southeast Asia have emerged as their preferred work destinations, with Delhi and Mumbai now becoming mere stop-gaps on the way. Emigration clearances data from the last five years show a steady flow of blue collar workers from northeastern Indian states emigrating to the UAE. However, emigration clearance is only mandatory for those who do not have a matriculation certificate, meaning these statistics do not include migrant workers with a certain degree of education, many of whom end up working in the service industry abroad. Mezhiengunuo Sere, originally from Nagaland, says higher remittances play a large role in convincing workers like herself and her husband to take a gamble on an expensive city like Dubai. Emigration clearances data from the last five years show a steady flow of blue collar workers from northeastern Indian states emigrating to the UAE. However, emigration clearance is only mandatory for those who do not have a matriculation certificate, meaning these statistics do not include migrant workers with a certain degree of education, many of whom end up working in the service industry abroad. Mezhiengunuo Sere, originally from Nagaland, says higher remittances play a large role in convincing workers like herself and her husband to take a gamble on an expensive city like Dubai. Stranded and jobless Since losing their jobs in March, Sere and her husband have been sitting at home in the UAE, waiting for the Indian consulate to respond to their request to be flown back. Under the Vande Bharat mission, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has arranged flights to repatriate Indians stuck overseas since the first week of May, more than a month after a nationwide lockdown kicked off on 25 March. But in the meantime, several stranded migrant workers such as Sere told MEE that they were in dire straits, in large part due to the clauses tying their visas to their employers under the much criticised kafala sponsorship system. Despite reforms in the labour laws in sponsoring overseas employees, the kafala system continues to be a common practice in violation of Emirati law and international labour conventions, said Mustafa Qadri, the founder and executive director of London-based labour rights consulting firm Equidem. “Authorities were quick to provide financial support to major businesses and nationals, well above the support given to migrant workers, who are the backbone of society,” he told MEE. Sere says she now fears that her and her husband’s visas could be cancelled at any time. The couple are now faced with either paying a 25 Emirati dirhams ($6.80) per day fine for overstaying their visa, or applying for a six-month tourist visa costing 2,000 dirhams ($545). “The [former employer] has also withheld my husband’s passport, which they said would be returned once we have a confirmed ticket in hand,” said Sere, the sense of urgency palpable in her voice. “If we leave by June, we’ll be fine. But by July, I don’t think we’ll be left with anything to survive here.” A long and expensive journey home More than 200,000 Indian migrants have registered to return home on the Vande Bharat flights since May. But the flights from the UAE to India have disproportionately landed in southern Indian airports. Except for two flights from Kuwait and Russia that landed in the Assamese city of Guwahati, the biggest airport in the northeast, since late May, Indian officials told MEE that no direct or feeder flights had been arranged for expats coming from the region. While northeastern state governments have provided relief packages for workers stranded in other Indian cities, the offer has not been extended to expats from the region. Seeing that migrant workers from his region were left to their own devices, David Tusing, a Dubai-based journalist originally from Manipur, who was also recently let go by his employer, began collecting small donations and delivering care packages of essential items to other UAE-based Indians in need. Tusing also started compiling a list of expatriates from northeast India stranded in the Gulf country, which he tweeted to state government officials in late May. Chief minister of the state of Manipur Biren Singh replied: “Will pursue the matter with urgency. Thanks for sharing the list. We will overcome. Jai Hind (Long live India).” “I haven’t heard from him since then,” Tusing told MEE. Suresh Babu, the chief secretary of Manipur, told MEE that although the state government had made a special request to the central government, repatriation was entirely in the hands of the Ministry of External Affairs. Mmhonlumo Kikon, a spokesperson for Nagaland state authorities, explained to MEE that once residents go overseas, they are no longer seen as citizens of a particular state but of the Indian nation. Paying for quarantine For those who have managed to fly back to India, expatriates from the northeast find themselves forced to quarantine for at least a week at their port of entry, instead of being allowed to transit through another flight back home. Ngaikhanching worked as an assistant manager in the UAE until she was made redundant in April. She landed in Kolkata on 4 June, but was prevented from flying home to Manipur on the same day. “I was told that I would have to pay for a one-week quarantine in Delhi, for which I was shown a list of hotels,” she told MEE. She had to spend close to 40,000 Indian rupees ($525) to return to Manipur, where she’s currently spending another two weeks in quarantine, this time in a government facility. Qadri said it was "disappointing" to see Indian authorities fail to assist returnees financially with the costs of plane tickets and mandatory quarantine upon arrival. “Indian authorities have obligations under international human rights and labour rights conventions to respect the right of return, provide access to medical care and provide other support,” he said. Even as tourist hotspots have begun to reopen in Dubai, workers say that the situation remained "so bad" that they did not expect to be recalled any time soon. “Through a friend, I was offered the same job at her company but for half the salary” she made at her previous job, Ngaikhanching said. She preferred to return home and take her chances there. Sere also holds on to the idea that she can return to her home state and try to make a living there. “My parents are farmers so I will try selling vegetables or maybe take up farming or poultry just to survive for a few months,” said Sere. For now, getting home would in itself be a blessing.

Written at 2021-05-05 13:25:53

Workers at Dubai's Expo 2020 likely to have suffered dangerous heat stress

Exclusive: ‘World’s greatest show’ could be linked to cardiorespiratory failures in labourers building infrastructure Thousands of migrant construction workers employed on huge infrastructure and building projects ahead of next year’s Expo 2020 exhibition in Dubai are likely to have been exposed to dangerous levels of heat stress, a Guardian investigation has found. Dubai will host the Expo 2020 next year, in which 190 countries will come together to celebrate themes of mobility, innovation and sustainability in a series of bespoke, themed pavilions across a 4.38 sq km site in Dubai South economic zone. Yet a Guardian investigation has found that migrant workers who have been building the infrastructure, accommodation blocks and national pavilions across the summer months could have been working in unsafe and potentially fatal conditions. Construction work for the Expo 2020 began in 2015 and British construction firms including McLaren and Laing O’Rourke are among dozens of foreign companies involved in multi-million-pound construction projects for the global exhibition. To date, 60% of the Expo work has already been completed. The United Arab Emirates is a dangerous place for the hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who travel from their homes in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh to work in the heat and dust of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Every year hundreds of workers – mostly young men – who have travelled from India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh, die while working in the Gulf state. Worker fatality numbers are difficult to access, but according to data from the Indian government, 5,185 Indian nationals died between 2012–2017. Many of these deaths are recorded as cardiovascular events such as respiratory failure, cardiac arrest or “natural deaths”. Of the 126 “blue collar” workers the Indian government said died in the UAE last year, 70% were recorded as dying from heart attacks. Heat places a huge strain on the cardiovascular system with extreme heat stress leading to potentially fatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular failures. Recent research by cardiologists and climatologists concluded that exposure to extreme heat stress was linked to the deaths of hundreds of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar, which has similar weather conditions to the UAE. The authorities in the UAE, in line with other countries across the Gulf, has said they are protecting workers from heat-related injuries through a work ban that prohibits manual labour in unshaded outdoor areas between 12.30–3pm from June–August. However the Guardian’s weather analysis found that the summer work ban in the UAE does not keep workers safe. Anyone working outside who is performing even moderate physical labour is exposed to potentially fatal levels of heat stress for the majority of the working day from June–September every year. British companies McLaren and Laing O’Rourke are currently working on Expo 2020 projects. The UK’s Department for International Trade awarded the £21m contract to build the UK Expo 2020 pavilion, which is inspired by Stephen Hawking’s “breakthrough message” initiative, to Pico and McLaren. McLaren is also working on construction at Dubai airport. Laing O’Rourke is working on a contract to build the Leadership and Media pavilions, as well as the “Hammerhead” access road to the central event space for Expo 2020 Dubai. The companies said that they have robust heat strategies in place that go above and beyond the 12–3pm summer work ban imposed by the UAE government. McLaren said that construction work on the UK pavilion is being timed to coincide with cooler temperatures. It also has detailed heat mitigation measures in place including chilled welfare areas, shaded rest areas on site and amended work schedules based on expected heat levels. Laing O’Rourke said that it had specific summer working policies in place and well-defined procedures on how to implement these measures. UK non-profit organisation the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) said that a survey it conducted of construction companies operating in the UAE last year found that many did not have robust heat monitoring programmes in place. “Although British companies are doing comparatively well at taking the issue of heat stress seriously compared to many of their peers, all international construction companies in the UAE operate with an unacceptable level of risk to their workers,” said Diana Eltahawy, Gulf programme manager at BHRRC. The Guardian used weather data from 2008–2017 to calculate the wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) for UAE, an internationally used metric that uses wind speed, solar radiation, humidity and air temperature to assess the impact of heat stress on the human body. A WGBT reading of 28C (82F) and above is internationally accepted as the point at which the human body is dangerously affected by heat stress. The analysis found: In July, despite the work ban, anyone working outside will have been exposed to dangerous levels of heat stress between 9am-9pm. Between 9am-3pm workers can only safely work outdoors in unshaded areas for a maximum of 15 minutes an hour for almost every day of the month. In June, heat stress exposure was at a dangerous level between 9am–6pm. Before the outdoor working ban came into effect on the 15th, no work at all could be done safely between 9am and 3pm. In August, anyone working outside was at risk of suffering from dangerous levels of heat stress between 9am-6pm for the entire month. For most days between 9am–3pm, workers should have been working a maximum of 15 minutes an hour. The second half of September, after the end of the outdoor work ban on the 15th, was particularly dangerous. Virtually no work could be done safely between 12pm and 3pm and workers should have been working just 15 minute intervals between 9am and 12pm. The first half of October was also dangerous. Between 9am and 3pm labourers should have worked for a maximum of 15 minutes an hour. An Expo 2020 spokesperson said, “Our assurance standards require contractors to develop and implement an all-year-round ‘weather working plan’ detailing arrangements for working safely in the heat (over and above the UAE legislation on summer-time working). All contractors are required to establish calibrated project weather stations which monitor the thermal work limit, which takes into account wet-globe temperature, dry-bulb temperature, globe temperature and wind speed. Contractor plans include specific action levels and arrangements to be undertaken at each level. Our working in the heat policies, procedures and associated arrangements apply throughout the year and we run courses and programmes to support them.” The UK’s Department for International Trade said: “DIT has taken a series of measures to ensure high health and safety standards are maintained for all workers at the UK pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai site.” The United Arab Emirates government did not respond to requests for comment. The guardian, 03,oct,2019 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/oct/03/workers-at-dubai-expo-2020-heat-stress

Written at 2021-05-05 13:27:52

Put human rights on the agenda of security discussions ahead of Dubai Expo 2020

As policymakers, security experts, businesses and other stakeholders gather on 19-21 January for the Intersec Future Security Summit in Dubai to discuss 'Disrupting Technologies: Integrating Physical and Digital Security', human rights considerations are conspicuously absent from the agenda.  This is despite UAE's troubling record of abusing technology to launch attacks on human rights defenders and other critics of the government.   A significant part of the event is dedicated to discussing security preparedness for Expo 2020, the six-month international fair set to begin in October 2020 and expected to bring some 25 million visitors to the emirate.   Amid the official promotion for Expo 2020 - designed to showcase Dubai as a hub of technological innovation, cultural tolerance, and visionary leadership - it is important to remember the UAE's record of crushing any form of dissent expressed offline or online, frequently in the name of security.   Human rights organizations have long raised concerns about the UAE's aggressive acquisition of cyber-surveillance technology and its misuse to target journalists, human rights defenders, and other perceived critics. An investigation by Reuters revealed how the UAE's spying programme dubbed 'Project Raven' used powerful tools to hack into the accounts of individuals considered threats, including foreign journalists and a 16-year-old boy whose tweets were deemed offensive.  According to Reuters, in 2016, the spy operation moved to a domestic cyber-security company, DarkMatter, which also happens to be the Expo's official cyber-security provider. The company denies taking part in the hacking operation.  In addition, Citizen Lab investigations revealed how prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansour had been subjected to several hacking attempts, including by Pegasus spyware linked to Israeli company NSO. He is currently serving a ten-year prison term for posts on Twitter and Facebook, illustrating the UAE's draconian approach to freedom of expression and digital rights.   In addition to targeted surveillance, the UAE authorities heavily monitor social media, instant messaging and blogs, as well as block access to thousands of websites deemed inappropriate. UAE residents also report increasing difficulties in accessing these via VPN – an act which is also criminalized. Expo 2020 visitors should be aware of the draconian cyber-security laws in the UAE, used in the past against foreigners.    An investigation by the NYT published last month alleged that a popular app, ToTok - developed and widely used in the UAE due to bans of VoIP including Skype and WhatsApp - has been used as a spying tool by the government. While ToTok vehemently denied the allegations, further questions were raised regarding its alleged links to a senior UAE official  According to the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, 12,734 websites have been blocked since 2016, many for "pornographic" or "immoral" content. In the past two years, 135 websites were blocked for "offenses against the UAE and public order". Dozens of others have also been blocked on vague grounds of "illegal activities", insult and defamation or by order from the judicial authorities for unspecified reasons.   Surveillance and monitoring and other technology products will be showcased at the Insterc security, safety and fire protection fair running concurrently with the Summit. Companies participating in the Summit and/or showcasing their products at the security fair, as well as those expected to flock to the UAE for Expo 2020, need to be mindful of the risk that their technology could be used and abused by the Dubai government to track or target activists. Such companies should carry out due diligence to assess and mitigate human rights risks associated with their presence, starting by being more transparent in disclosing their business operations Efforts are ongoing to hold surveillance companies to account for complicity in human rights abuses. A group of activists have taken legal action in Israel to revoke NSO's export license to prevent future sale of its spyware to regimes spying of peaceful critics.  WhatsApp is seeking a court injunction in the US to block NSO from accessing its computer systems. NSO has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, including in responses to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.   Recognizing the human rights risks of surveillance companies globally, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression noted that: "Companies appear to be operating without constraint. It is critical that companies themselves adhere to their human rights responsibilities, including by disclosing their transfers, conducting rigorous human rights impact assessments, and avoiding transfers to States unable to guarantee their compliance with their human rights obligations.”  He recommended a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance tools until human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks are in place.  Despite some limited efforts at regulating the surveillance trade, a lot more needs to be done by companies themselves currently turning a blind eye to how their technology might be used by governments like the UAE to silence independent voices. Participating in events on security in the UAE without addressing human rights concerns serves to promote the UAE's brand as modern, tech-savvy and open for business and investment, while human rights defenders likes Ahmed Mansour languish in jail.  Source: https://www.business-humanrights.org/zh-hans/%E5%8D%9A%E5%AE%A2/put-human-rights-on-the-agenda-of-security-discussions-ahead-of-dubai-expo-2020/

Written at 2021-05-05 13:41:40

Why will.i.am and Mariah Carey should say 'no' to Dubai Expo

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan proclaimed 2019 as the 'Year of Tolerance', but for many it has been the Year of Intolerance. So far this year, the situation for human rights defenders and political prisoners in the UAE has deteriorated. Over 135 human rights organisations issued a joint call last week for the release of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who recently turned 50 in solitary confinement at Al-Sadr prison, Abu Dhabi. Despite its unacceptable human rights violations, the UAE will be rewarded a year from now, in October 2020, as trade delegations representing 134 nations and businesses from all sectors attend Dubai Expo 2020. Earlier this month, an investigation published by The Guardian revealed that migrant labourers building the venues for Expo 2020 have died due to heat exposure. Although regulations in the UAE technically prohibit working at the hottest times of day, laws intended to protect the workers have not been enforced. The UAE is passing up an opportunity to take the lead on an issue for which all Gulf states have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Yet according to a report published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, out of 260 construction contracts awarded in the UAE since January 2018, 62 projects have been awarded to companies who have failed to disclose human rights safeguards. Businesses and trade delegations taking part in Dubai Expo 2020 are complicit because these projects include their exhibition venues. Nevertheless it seems "The World's Greatest Show" will go on and with the help of Mariah Carey, will.i.am and Lionel Messi, Dubai Expo 2020 is not short of celebrity endorsements. Mariah Carey, dressed in a gown encrusted with Swarovski crystals headlined a concert at Burj Park in Downtown Dubai this week to mark the one-year countdown to Expo 2020. The rapper will.i.am provides the voiceover on an Expo 2020 promotional video in which he reels off a series of great accomplishments in the history of human civilisation. "You weren't there when they created algebra, built the pyramids in Giza or painted the Mona Lisa." But, he continues, "you could be there and with your own eyes witness new acts of human genius". In 2007 will.i.am, as part of the Black Eyed Peas, recorded a song for a charity album called Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. Darfuris suffered massacres at the hands of Janjaweed militias. Rebranded as the RSF, former Janjaweed militias, are now a key ally of the UAE within Sudan itself, and have fought as mercenaries for the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Libya. Hemedti, a former leader of the Janjaweed during the War in Darfur owns many gold mines in Darfur. The UN suggests that billions of dollars of gold was exported illegally from Sudan to Dubai between 2010 and 2014. Meanwhile Lionel Messi is "Proud to be an Expo 2020 Dubai ambassador" and he features in a promotional video for the event. In 2016 he donated $72,000 to the NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). MSF have provided medical services in various parts of Yemen during the ongoing conflict, and their hospitals have been hit by the airstrikes of the Saudi coalition of which the UAE is a member. Last April in Aden, which at the time was occupied by the UAE, MSF were forced to suspend admissions to Al Sadaqah hospital after a patient was killed in an attack by a militia. That Lionel Messi and will.i.am would promote an event on behalf of the UAE government is unfathomable, especially considering their previous support for Medecins Sans Frontieres and Amnesty International respectively. The UK government and the City of London Corporation have also played a major role in securing Dubai's position in the global economy. Each year the Lord Mayor of London visits Dubai to meet with the Emirate's ruling family. The Dubai International Financial Centre is an independent jurisdiction with English laws based on the London Court of International Arbitration. Political economist Ronen Palan includes Dubai and Bahrain alongside the likes of the Cayman Islands in what he calls "the second British Empire" which consists of British overseas territories and former protectorates which are either tax havens or low-tax jurisdictions. As an offshore financial centre, Dubai is an attractive destination for businesses and illicit flows of money. Both Beirut and Bahrain have had a similar reputation in the past, and now Dubai has the epithet of "Switzerland of the Middle East." In a visit to Libya as Foreign Minister in 2017 Boris Johnson said in an infamous speech: "They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai. The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away." Sirte is a city badly ravaged by a war in Libya, where the UAE is a prominent actor. While Dubai is certainly more stable than Libya, it is not exactly a safe or secure place to do business, unless you are close to the Al-Maktoum royal family or the Al-Nahyan's from Abu Dhabi (Dubai's de-facto lenders of last resort). The financial crisis hit Dubai badly and only the bailout from oil-rich Abu Dhabi prevented an economic collapse. Construction projects were at risk of never being completed, including the Burj Khalifa which was belatedly named in honour of Abu Dhabi's ruler, Khalifa bin Zayed. Ever since, Abu Dhabi has taken the opportunity to exercise greater political power over Dubai within the federal system of the UAE. In 1985 when Emirates Airline was launched by the government of Dubai, Abu Dhabi was unsettled, interpreting it as an attempt to upstage them and a challenge to the balance of power in the UAE. The recent launch of Air Arabia Abu Dhabi as a partner of Etihad Airways to rival Emirates Airlines and Fly Dubai is just the latest stage in the rivalry between the royal family's of the two Emirates. The main site of Expo 2020 is located, perhaps diplomatically, half way between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi certainly won't wish to be upstaged, especially considering Saudi Arabia will host the G20 summit in November 2020, and Qatar will host World Cup in 2022. Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum has done a great deal by himself to harm the image of the UAE by kidnapping and holding his own daughter Latifa against her will. Arguably though, it has been the aggressive foreign policy of Mohamed bin Zayed that has caused most harm to the UAE's reputation in recent years. With one year until Dubai Expo 2020, there is still time for trade delegations to reconsider their attendance and for businesses to consider their human rights policies. There is also time for the UAE to stop violating the rights of their own citizens, enforce protections for migrant workers and cease the harmful interventions in Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Lyndon Peters is an independent activist and researcher. His work focuses on the UK's relationship with the Gulf states. He has worked with human rights organisations on many issues relating to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. Follow him on Twitter @LyndonPeters01 Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. Source: https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2019/10/24/will-i-am-mariah-carey-should-say-no-to-dubai-expo

Written at 2021-05-05 13:46:39

Rights Group Launches a Warning Ahead of Dubai Expo 2020

Jan 21, 2020_The Business and Human Rights Resource Center called on tech companies expected to participate in Dubai's Expo 2020 in October, to put human rights on the agenda. As policymakers, security experts, businesses and other stakeholders are gathered at the Intersec Future Security Summit in Dubai to discuss 'Disrupting Technologies and Integrating Physical and Digital Security', the statement notes that human rights considerations are conspicuously absent from the event's agenda. "This is despite the UAE's troubling record of abusing technology to launch attacks on human rights defenders and other critics of the government." The statement warned that a significant part of the event is dedicated to discussing security preparedness for Expo 2020, the six-month international fair set to begin in October 2020 and expected to bring some 25 million visitors to the emirate. Source: https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/put-human-rights-on-the-agenda-of-security-discussions-ahead-of-dubai-expo-2020 Read from source: http://icfuae.org.uk/news/rights-group-launches-warning-ahead-dubai-expo-2020

Written at 2021-05-05 13:48:56

Why the UAE is paying for America’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai

January 15, 2020_ After struggling to raise the required $60 million from private sources, the State Department announced today that the United States would nevertheless have a pavilion at this fall’s Expo 2020 Dubai after securing funding from an unexpected source: the United Arab Emirates government itself. “The US pavilion is made possible by the generosity of the Emirati government in recognition of the strong partnership between the United States and the United Arab Emirates," the State Department said in a statement. "This is a historic opportunity for a global audience to experience the U.S. pavilion and Expo 2020 Dubai when it opens its gates in October 2020 for an expected 25 million visits during the six-month long event." US participation had been in doubt after Congress declined to authorize taxpayer dollars to make up for the shortfall, triggering criticism that the United States risked losing clout to China and other rising powers if it skipped a global event that organizers expect to attract 25 million visitors and 190 participating countries. Last month the State Department said it was “exploring other options that would allow for the United States to participate.” While the gift allows the United States to save face, US participation is also critical to the UAE’s plan to use the expo to showcase an image of modernity and tolerance amid continued criticism of the monarchy’s human rights record and regional interventions from Yemen to Libya. The nonprofit Expo2020 Dubai signed a one-year, $1.044 million contract with Washington lobby shop Sanitas International in April to provide “senior level counsel, international media engagement and key stakeholder outreach.” Lobbyists for the UAE itself have also been personally involved. “The US must be present.” — UAE lobbyist Hagir Elawad “US participation at Expo 2020 is valuable on several levels as it provides an unparalleled opportunity to promote both US commercial interests and public diplomacy efforts,” UAE lobbyist Hagir Elawad of UAE Strategies wrote in an Oct. 28 email to unidentified “colleagues” as Congress considered authorizing federal spending for a pavilion. “The US must be present.” Source: https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/01/why-uae-paying-for-expo-2020-dubai-lobbying.html

Written at 2021-05-05 13:52:32

Migrant Workers are disproportionately at risk of COVID-19

March 21, 2020_ Migrant workers are disproportionately at risk of COVI-19, because of worse access to health care and poor working conditions warns human rights group. The Group, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties, has written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) raising its concerns and urging that action is taken to address the disparity in the way migrant workers are treated. In the letter to the WHO, they say: “We have looked at several major global sporting and cultural events, which are taking place over the coming 12 months. While many utilise existing facilities, such as the FA Cup, Tour De France and Formula One, a small number require significant new infrastructure such as the Olympics and Expo. “Tokyo 2020 has already faced substantial criticism over its treatment of migrant workers. Expo 2020, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates, follows a similar pattern of being heavily reliant on migrant labour, but has not been called out for the poor practices and discriminatory treatment of migrant workers.” The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties point out that migrant workers in the UAE have few rights and poor access to health care, which is vital to successfully fighting this terrible disease. They urge the WHO to encourage the United Arab Emirates to take into account the health and safety of the thousands of persons working on the preparation of the facilities for the Expo 2020 in Dubai. The letter continues, “…responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires good access to health care, including migrant workers in the Emirate, the majority of whom are from Asian countries, as the risk of a pandemic spreads worldwide. “Migrant workers in the UAE and elsewhere represent a vulnerable group with limited access to healthcare and poor living conditions including in cramped, overcrowded or substandard accommodation. We believe that they should not be treated differently to other groups and more needs to be done to protect them from the risk of infection from Coronavirus. “This will require urgent action to stop the ongoing work, especially when it takes place in overcrowded complexes where the infection is easily spread.” The Group also calls for effective monitoring and screening of workers moving between countries or between jobs. “If workers are forced to move location, region or country for financial or health care reasons, this is likely to mitigate against global efforts to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.” The Geneva Council reviewed statements issued about particular events, whether the organisers were considering, or had taken measure relating to Coronavirus and reports about the conditions of migrant workers. Earlier today the Prime Minister of Japan, confirmed that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed for 12 months. Expo 2020 Dubai, issued such a statement last Wednesday, after a meeting with participating countries to consult on the impact of the Coronavirus on their preparations without including any indication of measures taken to protect workers or stop construction work temporarily. The UAE is working on the construction of a site that extends over an area of 4.4 square kilometres, as the headquarters of the Expo, in which 192 countries will participate, to be opened on 20 October 2020 and continue until 10 April 2021. Work continues at the facilities of the Expo, even though the UAE witnessed two deaths from the Coronavirus, in addition to 14 cases of the epidemic, which prompted the state to take extensive precautionary measures to stop government institutions being disrupted and to prevent travel, but the measures taken did not include workers and the construction sector that depends on foreign arrivals. The Geneva Council reiterates that respect for human rights in accordance with international standards such as the “United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” obliges the UAE to take immediate measures regarding worker protection. Moreover, the UAE has a poor record regarding workers’ rights, as migrant construction workers face exploitation, and the state adopts a sponsorship system that links migrant workers to their employers and can be tried for “absconding” and punished with fines, imprisonment, and deportation if they leave the employer. Despite some positive reforms of the labour laws that the UAE has undertaken in recent years, foreign workers still face dangerous working conditions and failure to ensure their safety and prevent them from forming unions to claim their rights. The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties stressed that the UAE must ensure that human rights remain at the core of measures to prevent coronavirus without discrimination, foremost among which is the safety of low-wage migrant workers who are at high risk of forced labour. Source: https://genevacouncil.com/en/2020/03/21/coronat/

Written at 2021-05-05 13:56:09

Coronavirus in the UAE: Migrant workers from northeast India desperate to get home

20 June 2020_ India's northeast has always been a place apart and with opportunities limited, many from the area went to the Gulf. Now, they want to return In March, Lunkhel was supposed to start work as a full-time member of the kitchen staff at a luxury hotel in Dubai. The 32-year old from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur had completed six months of training for the job. He felt, finally, that he was going to pursue his "calling". Then the coronavirus pandemic happened. Lunkhel told Middle East Eye that despite initial promises, his contract was not extended and the company offered to pay for his repatriation flight. Two months later, he is now home in New Delhi with his wife and two children. Lunkhel is still one of the luckier ones, as hundreds of migrant workers from India’s northeast await their golden ticket home from the UAE. In April, Emirati authorities announced a complete lockdown of the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including closing restaurants, cafes and malls. Migrant workers across the Middle East have been adversely affected by the lockdowns and ensuing economic crises due to the pandemic - and northeast Indians are no exception. A growing part of the workforce in the service and hospitality industries in the UAE, natives of that region of India say they have been left in the lurch by both Emirati employers and their home country. A growing northeastern expatriate population Connected to the rest of the country through a "chicken neck" land strip 22km wide known as the Siliguri corridor, India’s northeast is often perceived as separate from its "mainland". Natives of this little-known part of India - composed of eight states and surrounded by Nepal, China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh - bear facial features more reminiscent of southeast and east Asians, often leading to them being singled out and discriminated against. In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, several instances have been reported of northeasterners being called "coronavirus", spat on and driven out by landlords in India. Since 1954, the region has experienced bouts of homegrown insurgency by separatist factions and military operations following the partition of India and Pakistan by the British Empire in 1947. Due to a lack of meaningful private infrastructure and limited civil service jobs, hundreds of thousands of northeastern Indians have moved both to the cities in India's mainland and abroad in search of work. For anthropologist and University of Melbourne professor Dolly Kikon, a native of the northeastern state of Nagaland, incidents of casual and violent racism in major Indian cities have compelled a number of residents of the region to move abroad. “Our exposure to the Indian mainland has been quite bitter and very few of us can say that it has been an exhilarating (experience),” she told MEE. “As though state violence and militarisation weren’t enough, living in Indian cities has been another layer of humiliation.” Read from source: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-uae-india-migrant-workers-repatriation

Written at 2021-05-05 14:00:13

Emirates Group company Transguard abandons its workers, drives them deeper into debt bondage

September 8, 2020_ A large number of Nepali workers, who went to work in the UAE after paying hefty recruitment fees and other costs with the hope of improving their livelihood, are instead returning with large debts. Santosh Dahal, 31, was happy when he found out that he got a job at Dubai International Airport. River Overseas, Nepal’s leading recruitment agency which supplies workers to the Gulf region and Malaysia, charged Dahal Rs 78,000 (approximately USD665), several times higher than the fixed government ceiling of Rs 10,000 (USD85). “I also knew about the government rules and I told the recruiting agency about it. After being selected in the interview, I was told that I would get the job only if I paid the amount demanded. If not, the job would go to someone else,” said Dahal, who is originally from the hilly district of Dolakha. “I thought working at Dubai airport was a matter of pride. I didn’t want to let go of the opportunity. I agreed to pay the required money. After all, I had no other choice.” Despite paying the hefty recruitment fee, he was given a receipt of only Rs10,000. His work permit, issued from the Nepal government, said he would be working for Transguard LLC. “Even if the work permit came out in the name of Transguard LLC, the work will be at Dubai airport. The company is just taking the worker for now. The work will ultimately be at the airport,” Dahal remembers being told by the recruiting agency representative. He arrived in Dubai on January 20, 2019. But he was not put to work for the next four months. Dahal was told that the work he would be doing at the airport had not started, so he would have to wait. “They paid us a small amount of money in that period,” said Dahal. “Only after landing in Dubai, I got to know that Transguard was the company that supplies workers for Dubai Airport. Later, I came to know that I was not directly appointed by the airport. It was only after coming here that I came to know the difference between going through agents and getting hired directly.” Transguard did not even pay Dahal the minimum wage stated in the contract he signed in Nepal. “My position was a special handling agent. When I received my work permit, the contract said apart from food, I would be given AED1,200,” said Dahal. “The contract given to me in Nepal was not accepted in Dubai. Another work contract was made here. The new contract said my minimum salary was AED800, food allowance AED125, attendance allowance is AED80 and airport aviation allowance AED10o, so the total monthly salary was AED1,105. There was a difference of 400 dirhams even in the minimum wage.” In the camp, he had to pay AED185 more than the allowance provided for food. “We were not allowed to cook our food at the camp. We had to eat whatever was given at the camp irrespective of its quality. They would deduct AED310 from my monthly salary but we would get only dirhams AEd125 as food allowances,” said Dahal. “When I asked about this to other workers they told me this is how it was. There was a complaint box at the workplace for submitting our grievances. I repeatedly dropped my complaints in the box, but nothing ever changed.” “No one would work here for such a meagre salary. But we get some tips from customers. I have been working in hope of tips from generous visitors,” he said. “With the pandemic, I have lost that too.” Dahal is not alone. After the Covid-19 outbreak, a large number of Pakistani, Indian, and Nepali workers whose contracts had not yet expired were forced to resign and sent back home. Transguard had also sent a list of 2,479 names of Nepali workers to the Nepali embassy to initiate repatriation procedures. “I only got to work 48 days. I couldn't even recover the amount I paid for the job. I ended up taking more loans,” said Bhakti BK, who returned to Nepal on 31 July. “I had paid NPR85,000 as recruitment fees to River Overseas. I have not even paid half of the loan. I informed the human resources manager about my situation but he did not take any responsibility for this.” BK had reached Dubai on 7 January and worked as a trainee until 31 January. “My duty started on 1 February. The work had stopped since 18 March.” Nim Bahadur Chhetri of Bardiya said that the workers were scared that they would not survive Covid-19. He had joined Transguard on 24 March 2019, after paying Rs 95,000 in recruitment fees. “When workers were recalled from Dubai airport, the company management was not in favour of keeping workers and paying them. They threatened workers to keep them silent,” said BK. “It was the company's responsibility to provide us with jobs as we had the contract for two years. Unable to provide a job, the company should have reimbursed our recruitment fees and given compensation before sending us back home. But, they made the situation far worse by giving us low-quality food that we felt happy just to return home.” “It does not even provide the minimum basic facilities to the workers. Not even one percent of the food is of good quality,” said Jenny Shrestha, another worker who worked for the group. Dahal said that Transguard sent him without even paying the sick leave and gratuity amount. “The company asked me to arrange the ticket myself and go back to Nepal. I took a Nepal Airlines ticket of NPR43,600 on 3 July and handed over a copy of the ticket to get my passport,” said Dahal. “Suddenly, I was called on 31 June and given a ticket for July 1 on a Fly Dubai flight. I bought the ticket on the advice of the company. I was not allowed to go on the day I bought the ticket but only on 1 June. I wasted my money on purchasing an air ticket. Instead, I was sent back empty-handed without being paid the 29-day reserved leave and one year’s gratuity.” Workers who have not been able to return home are still staying in the camp. “We are living in a terrible condition. I could work in Dubai for only three months. The company terminated us without any information,” said Jayaram Nepal, who had reached Dubai after paying a recruitment fee of NPR55,000. “I have not been paid my salary last March. All we got was food.” Andy Hall, an independent migrant rights specialist who has been assisting the affected workers, says the UAE Decree 279/2020 has had a devastating impact and left thousands of workers unpaid. “The unethical recruitment of Transguard workers, especially those recruited recently, alongside negative impacts of the COVID19 pandemic on job security and the decree, has led to an increasingly high-risk situation of forced labour and debt bondage amongst too many of these workers.” Hall has been trying to engage with investors in companies like Transguard in the UAE, to raise awareness on “systemic forced labour and debt bondage in their labour supply chains because of their appalling neglect to prevent modern slavery and the lack of ethical recruitment and other practices by Transguard. It is taking time, but I am seeking remedies and repayment of fees to all impacted workers.” Many companies in the UAE have failed to provide food or basic protective gear to their workers. According to workers, the UAE government was more concerned about protecting companies than workers even during the pandemic. The policy of ‘Early Leave’ is just one example of the UAE government’s inclination towards employers, they believe. "Early leave" is a policy launched in April, which allows migrant workers to return to their home countries on unpaid leave and then return at a specific time determined by the worker and employer without contract termination, provided certain conditions are met. Transguard, in response to workers expressing their protest online, claimed that it has been “proactively working with the Nepalese embassy” to repatriate an ‘idle pool’ of 3,100 workers. It also said that while it has repatriated over 5,000 workers to other countries, it has been particularly difficult with Nepal as the airport remained closed for longer periods. The company said it was paying for tickets of employees going on annual leave or have been ‘made idle’ but not those who have ‘resigned or been terminated as per UAE law’. However, many workers MR spoke to say they were given no choice in the matter and were forced to submit resignations. The difference in being made idle and termination, and the associated legal obligations, are also unclear. Article 131 of the UAE labour law clearly states that the employer shall, upon the termination of the contract, bear the expenses of repatriation of the worker to the location from which he is hired, or to any other location agreed upon between the parties. Migrant-Rights.org reached out to Transguard Group, seeking their response to these allegations. A spokesperson maintained that the company was in full compliance with the UAE labour laws. (Full response in the sidebar) Transguard is one of many employers failing to meet their obligations to workers. (See sidebar above) A total of 44,000 Nepali workers have registered for repatriation at the Nepali Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The Nepali Embassy has facilitated their return home but has not been able to ensure refund of recruitment fees or any due wages and benefits. Nepal’s Ambassador to the UAE, Krishna Prasad Dhakal, said that the embassy is repatriating workers in coordination with affected workers and employers. “We have been coordinating with employers and the host government to protect Nepali workers' rights and ensuring that employers provide air tickets to workers if they want to return home,” said Dhakal. A recent report by Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has found that those who migrated after paying large sums of money at high-interest rates and have lost their jobs in the last few months are trapped in a vicious circle of debt bondage. “Both source and host governments seem to have failed in reimbursing recruitment fees and relieving workers from the debt burden. Both sides do not seem to have paid enough attention to this issue” Sudip Pathak, a commissioner of the rights body. “Concerned agencies should facilitate access to justice of workers whose labour rights and human rights were violated by maintaining data of victim workers and evidence. For this, authorities of the destination country and the employers should be made accountable.” Footnote: MR also reached out to Emirates Group and River Overseas. Emirates Group directed us to Transguard for an explanation. River Overseas has not responded. Source: https://www.migrant-rights.org/2020/09/emirates-group-company-transguard-abandons-its-workers-drives-them-deeper-into-debt-bondage/

Written at 2021-05-05 14:10:21

Investors raise concerns about migrant workers' rights in Gulf

AUGUST 5, 2020- DUBAI (Reuters) _ A group of investors is raising concerns about the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf, warning that labour practices risk leading to abuses such as modern slavery. The group, led by fund manager CCLA, says it represents 38 investors with over $3 trillion in managed assets and wants companies to disclose how they protect migrant workers. Such workers, many of them from Asia, provide the backbone of Gulf economies, working in sectors such as construction, hospitality and oil and gas. The group of investors has written to over 50 international companies operating in the region. It does not imply any wrongdoing by the companies it has written to but said some may be unaware of the risks. The group is concerned recruitment practices can require low-paid migrant workers to pay large fees to agents and middlemen to obtain employment in the Gulf, it said in a statement. Those workers often need to take out loans or sign over assets to pay those fees, which may lead them to being in “debt bondage” and at high risk of forced labour and modern slavery, it said. “As investors, we have a moral duty to ensure that we are not profiting from modern slavery in any shape or form,” CCLA’s Chief Executive Peter Hugh Smith said. The group also raised concerns about employers withholding migrant workers’ passports and the impact the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on migrant workers. Shell RDSa.L, Spanish construction firm Acciona ANA.MC, French construction firm Vinci SGEF.PA, Hyatt H.N and Wyndham Hotels WH.N told Reuters they were committed to protecting human rights and had policies designed to safeguard workers. Shell, Acciona and Vinci said those policies did not allow charging recruitment fees to workers and that they review worker welfare. Wyndham said it was not aware of any malpractice in any of its hotels. Vinci said it was challenging to guarantee a fair recruitment process in many regions and that the company had to be vigilant to safeguard workers. Amnesty International Campaigner Ella Knight said the Gulf’s migrant workers had long faced problems including not being paid, late payment of wages, forced labour, dangerous working conditions and overcrowded, unsanitary accommodation. Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Christian Schmollinger Read from soruce: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-gulf-workers-rights-idUSKCN2510DF

Written at 2021-05-05 14:14:05

‘I am starving’: the migrant workers abandoned by Dubai employers

sep,03,2020_ With no salary or money to pay for flights home, many are trapped in desperate situations in crowded labour camps Hassan doesn’t know if he will eat today. The 30-year-old Pakistani has lived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), for over a decade, employed as a construction worker. But when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, he lost his job. Without his salary he cannot afford to live in the UAE. Nor can he afford to fly home. “The suffering is too much. We hardly have any food and there’s no support. Since we don’t have any money, we can’t travel from here either,” he says. “How are we going to buy the ticket?” Hassan and 98 of his colleagues have been left to fend for themselves in a dusty labour camp on the outskirts of the city with little communication from their former employer, a local construction and contracting company. The three-storey U-shaped building with yellow concrete walls contains dozens of shabby dormitories, each packed with metal bunk beds. Social distancing is not possible in such cramped living quarters. The complex is fenced off and guarded by security. A large communal kitchen which was a hive of activity six months ago now lies dormant. There is no food to cook. The double economic blow of the Covid-19 outbreak and oil price crash has led to hundreds of thousands of job losses in the UAE, where almost 90% of the workforce are migrants. Many out-of-work migrants have been left stranded in the country, which does not afford a social safety net to foreigners. Early on in the pandemic, the UAE’s government ordered companies employing blue-collar migrant workers to continue to provide them with food and accommodation while they remain in the country, even if they have been made redundant. However, many companies have not complied, leaving the workers dependent on food donations. The government of Dubai did not respond to a request for comment on this. “Guests on-and-off visit and give something. But when nobody comes, we have to starve. We have nothing,” says Hassan. When nobody comes, we have to starve. We have nothing Hassan The need is overwhelming. Some community groups are now distributing donations of hundreds of meals each week. “The situation is very desperate for these men,” says Claudia Pinto, a member of The House of Om, a meditation and yoga community in Dubai, which recently registered as a charity to provide aid to hungry migrants during the pandemic. “We provide already cooked meals instead of bags of rice and other ingredients to ensure they eat properly and don’t try to sell the donations. They are still under a lot of pressure to send money back to their families. But it’s more important that they eat something.” The men interviewed say there are under stress from their financial obligations. Hassan’s salary was 2,000 dirhams (£408) per month. However, two years ago he underwent heart surgery and every month since then his employer has deducted 75% of his salary in instalments, since his medical insurance did not cover the full price of the procedure. Now, he is in danger of his health failing again. “Medication is mandatory for me since the surgery. I used to get the pills with my medical insurance but that has also been disconnected,” he says. “My medication costs 950 dirhams per month, and I can’t pay for it.” The majority of blue-collar migrant worker’s monthly salaries are often sent overseas in remittances to family in their countries of origin. Most of these workers rely on being paid an end-of-service gratuity payment – included in their contract by law – to take back to their home countries when their jobs end. This gratuity payment is typically the equivalent of one month’s salary per year of employment. While some countries are organising a limited number of repatriation flights for stranded workers, all of the men interviewed by the Guardian say they cannot bear to leave until they are paid what they are owed. “In the past two months, our labour-related cases have tripled,” says Barney Almazar, an attorney at Gulf Law who also provides free legal aid to migrant workers at monthly clinics at the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai. “It’s really been a big problem with many businesses not being able to pay rent and overhead expenses, resulting in some companies closing and unable to pay employees.” Ansar Abbas, 39, from Punjab, Pakistan, is owed 10 months of unpaid salary from 2019 and has also now lost his job. He is married with two children aged 10 and four and cannot face returning to them empty-handed. “It has been over a year since I was able to send any money home. Because I am starving, I can’t send anything,” he says. “We are sick and tired of this place and we want to escape. But I can’t go back with nothing.” Meanwhile, some of the men at the camp still technically have jobs and are going to work every day. But even they haven’t been paid. Shahadat, 28, from Bangladesh, is still working despite not receiving a salary since January. He supports his ageing parents and would like to get married and start a family of his own. But this is not possible without an income. “I love work, I want to work in Dubai,” he says. “Nobody is listening to us. Nobody can feel our pain. They are not thinking of our family, or lives, our future.” Source: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/03/i-am-starving-the-migrant-workers-abandoned-by-dubai-employers

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