19 October, 2008

'We need slaves to build monuments'

Don't know if this was already posted here, but...

It is already home to the world's glitziest buildings, man-made islands and mega-malls - now Dubai plans to build the tallest tower. But behind the dizzying construction boom is an army of migrant labourers lured into a life of squalor and exploitation.
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports.

The sun is setting and its dying rays cast triangles of light on to the bodies of the Indian workers. Two are washing themselves, scooping water from tubs in a small yard next to the labour camp's toilets. Others queue for their turn. One man stands stamping his feet in a bucket, turned into a human washing machine. The heat is suffocating and the sandy wind whips our faces. The sprinkles of water from men drying their clothes fall like welcome summer rain.

All around, a city of labour camps stretches out in the middle of the Arabian desert, 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.

I have left Dubai's spiralling towers, man-made islands and mega-malls behind and driven through the desert to the outskirts of the neighbouring city of Abu Dhabi. Turn right before the Zaha Hadid bridge, and a few hundred metres takes you to the heart of Mousafah, a ghetto-like neighbourhood of camps hidden away from the eyes of tourists. It is just one of many areas around the Gulf set aside for an army of labourers building the icons of architecture that are mushrooming all over the region.

Read the whole article here:



Anonymous said...

You didnt quote the actual part, its an Iraqi Engineer who said it , and his wife said how she would never use the Metro if it isnt racially segregated. Nice folks, I must say, they support racial segregation and using slaves to build monuments,

I am sure if someone actually asked them the reason for their views, they would try to justify it by using the US invasion of Iraq.

hemlock said...

i just came across the article myself :) you posted it before me! here's the part i love:

A group of construction engineers told me, with no apparent shame, that if a worker becomes too ill to work he will be sent home after a few days. "They are the cheapest commodity here. Steel, concrete, everything is up, but workers are the same."

At the top, floating around in their black or white robes, are the locals with their oil money...
Under the locals come the western foreigners, the experts and advisers, making double the salaries they make back home, all tax free. Beneath them are the Arabs - Lebanese and Palestinians, Egyptians and Syrians. What unites these groups is a mixture of pretension and racism...
Down at the base of the pyramid are the labourers, waiters, hotel employees and unskilled workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and beyond.

i thought the article was spot on.

Kyle said...

Quote from the article:

"We will never use the new metro if it's not segregated," he tells me, referring to the state-of-the-art underground system being built in neighbouring Dubai. "We will never sit next to Indians and Pakistanis with their smell," his wife explains.


First off, thanks for this article.

Second, you ought to be careful, Young Lady, for you risk making a lot of enemies with this post.

Third, that segregation-endorsing high-headed Babe in the quote needs to have the devil kicked out of her (insert what you like here)! This, just so she knows that its 2008 and not the early 60s and that she's not in Birmingham, Alabama!

samuraisam said...

veiled muslimah: I cleared up a formatting problem on your post; it was using the same header as the dates on the site.

people: sorry about comment moderation taking time, it'll probably only be on for one more week.

Anonymous said...

A somewhat worrying aspect is that many people support racial segregation, but not when they are the victims.

If the Iraqi lady was told she couldnt use the same bus as an American, she would probably cry racism, but apparently its ok if you are the one dishing it out....

Kyle said...


I have no problem with the comment moderation. I believe ever since you enabled moderation, the comments are clean & civilized. In a way you've put away trolls on the backburner, which is good to maintain the modicum of decency in a debate.

What I'd request you is to assign more moderators - people that have been around in this Community Blog for a long time (unlike me) if not since its inception. It'd great if you could do this, as it'd enable speedier publishing of comments.

I hope you consider these facts and act upon them to maintain a decent forum!

Best, Kyle

BuJassem said...

another journalist trying to pay his ever increasing mortgage...

samuraisam said...


I've only refused two comments so far. Comment moderation makes people think I'm going to refuse their comments; that is why everything seems a bit more constructive. Also by delaying comments by 1-2 hours it has an effect on the commenters because there is no instant response from anyone.

I'll leave moderation on for another 2-3 weeks and see how things go and see about getting some more people to admin the comments.

Also, interesting tidbit, if you're a member here it's possible to bypass the comment moderation when writing anonymous comments (all you need to do is switch from being logged in to your account thats a member of this blog to 'anonymous', write a comment and it goes through by itself)

Anonymous said...

At the risk of bringing everyone's wrath to bear upon lil ol' me...

It's all good to sit back in our chairs and feel outraged at what the Iraqi woman said, but what is anyone of US here bloggers doing concretely to change the situation of discrimination and exploitation eh?

Or do we feel we've more than done our bit by making the right noises on a blog, so let's get on with our lives?

At least I give credit to the Iraqi woman for being honest.. Can we all say the same about ourselves?

Yours daringly,
The Challenger

rosh said...

I cannot believe, people get paid to write this sort of crap? Most of those who've lived there for the longest shall realize, the author is seeing a small picture of what makes up UAE - or he's pretty desperate for some validation. This is not a full disclosure . Yes, of course, there is exploitation and blatant discrimination, however to write an article on migrant workers and ignore millions who've made UAE and their lives a success, is outrageous. Am not denying UAE has it's set of issues. However, Guardian needs to be honest and see the full picture, it is easy to churn out half baked, cherry picked stuff based on a quick visit whilst seeing it from the surface.

"At the top, floating around in their black or white robes, are the locals with their oil money...

...jee I wish.

"...Down at the base of the pyramid are the labourers, waiters, hotel employees and unskilled workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines and beyond."

I think most people know, most of the richest folks in UAE (aside some citizens, Persians) are Indians & Pakistanis. It's stunning how filthy rich most of these people are. Trust me, I went to school with many. I am pretty sure, if there was a transparent census, based on wealth, it's shall be reflective of that statement. Likewise, in the corporate world.

Yes, there are the labourers. Personally, I don't think anyone else aside these folks shall survive in that heat?

"At least I give credit to the Iraqi woman for being honest.. Can we all say the same about ourselves?"

The Challenger, I agree. Honestly, I couldn't share the same seat with many of them either. I am not being racist or mean, but it definitely feels a different world.

Anonymous said...


How many ppl would want to sit next to you if you were asked to live with the kind of salary they are paid and the working hours they put in and the responsibilities that they have.. be honest you would stink perhaps even worse then the average worker.

Sorry could not stop myself! But as you say, one has to look at the whole situation not just the stink.


Abu Dhabi Blogger said...

Fortunately there are people out there who are doing something for these poor labourers. I do my bit in any way I can but don't advertise it.
And there is nothing interesting or pleasant about the fact that you cannot share the same seat with many of them. Try working in the sun for over eight hours a day and you will also be stinking. Oh and your comment about Indians and Pakistanis being the richest people? You obviously know nothing about the UAE's wealth distribution. YES there are rich people from every nationality but your sweeping statement is the very epitome of ignorance.
Your experience at 'school' is hardly sufficient grounds for such a grand assumption. And even if the richest people were from the Sub-continent, it does not in any way trivialize the plight of labourers.
I am supposed to be in the "upper middle class" and make a decent amount of money and own an expensive car. Doesn't stop me from hopping on the bus with the same people who built the towers we live and work in. Their jobs are the hardest and their wages the least. I think it is very easy to accuse them of being from a different world but it just goes to show how pathetic and shallow some of us are inside. They deserve our respect just like any decent human being. I feel VERY strongly for the labour in the UAE and resent such ignorant and vile comments.

Abu Dhabi Blogger said...

Oh and as for the Iraqi woman's 'honesty', I certainly do not admire it. It is absolute and complete racist filth. I wish some of these arrogant people were amde to work on a construction site and have people treat THEM the way many of us treat the labour class. Part of the problem is in our attitudes, not just the contracting firms employing the labour. Exchanging a word with them and wishing them well is a sart. They are not pieces of furniture and parts of the environment.

Kyle said...

At least I give credit to the Iraqi woman for being honest..

The Challenger:

Well, for starters, she & her husband were not being honest. I'd say both of them were pretty dumb to say such things to a reporter friend that burnt them to a crisp by citing their nationality after hitting the publish button to his article! What the hell were they thinking when they made that obnoxious and racist comment, that too to a reporter? Didn't these people realize that one dumb and ignorant remark from them would open floodgates of hate against a specific nationality?

And to answer your question about;

Can we all say the same about ourselves?.

Well, you portray yourself to yourself as a brave person. So, bravo if that makes you a hero!

i*maginate said...

I am not interested in the toilet conditions of a labourer. Guardian is lefty: what would you expect from such an article?

Specific income categories are always going to feel some kind of pinch according to their economic circumstances, so why is the focus exclusively on labourers in Dubai?

Labourers prob have it better here - seabee's post "Better off in Dubai" backs up my point. Link is http://dubaithoughts.blogspot.com/2008/10/better-off-in-dubai.html

rosh said...

AB: You've got your views/thoughts, I respect that. Each of us do what we can, in own way. Believe it (or faint) I do, and so does my family. However, I have to be honest - don't crucify me for saying what I feel, today. My comment is purely based on what I've experienced - be it at the malls of AJ, the city center at SHJ or right in front of my parent's home. And you know what? there are several fellow country men of labour folks who feel likewise. Can you deny Iraqi woman's sentiment is that of the minority?

That said, do I feel it is right/justified - of course not. Do I think people in general can do much more to improve their lives, yes of course. Apologize if my comment came across vile, wasn't meant so in context.

Re: wealth distribution. And you do? If so, enlighten me, please! Read my comment in context to the article. Friends (never been to GCC) read that piece of rubbish had an initial perception - Asians are labourers, with below minimum wages. They've got an impression, there is no middle or upper middle class - just rich local folks, skilled insanely paid western folks, troubled Arabs and labourers. Jee? so what the fuck happened to those thousands like my folks, their friends who made decent livelihoods, were able to send kids to international schools, pay university tuition fees, have homes and had avg middle/upper middle or affluent lives? Or what happened to those friends whose grandpa's and dads run Bur DXB's businesses since time immemorial? Or to those educated school/uni mates many of who are doing pretty well in UAE? What is so terribly misleading, YOU think is the epitome of ignorance? The sentiment is not just based on life during school days - you'd be a fool if you took that at face value. Perhaps, check emotions, and read my comment in context to the article.

FR: Honestly, I don't know. I wouldn't think anybody shall share a seat with me. I cannot *imagine* how life must be for them. I'd probably go nuts or pass out in a few days, if lucky. And yes, am thankful, everyday, for not being in their shoes. That said, having seen what I have, I stick to my statement, I could be wrong, however am entitled to one, aren't I?

BuJassem said...

AD Blogger... please, if you want to debate things with anyone, including Mr Rosh then you should consider doing so in a polite and respectable way. Mr Rosh did not insult you, and you have no right to call him ignorant because his opinions differ from yours.

I think debating is a great thing but we have to do it with respect.

Anonymous said...


I agree that throughout the world, low-income people feel pinch due to inflation, however, the poorer laborers in the UAE live a much worse standard than poor people in countries with comparable living standards. i.e. Singapore, Norway, USA if I may.

In fact, even in those countries, you have people living in similar conditions, BUT who are illegal immigrants.
In Dubai, legally imported laborers are made to live 20 to a room.

Not all of them come from worse conditions, sometimes there are people who are better off back home and want to leave , but cant because their passports are confiscated.

Yes, there is a law against that, but not many workers would dare to go to court after the company PRO threatens them with non-payment of wages if they make too much noise

Abu Dhabi Blogger said...

1- As for the wealth distribution question, for every white collar worker coming from Asia to the UAE, there are approximately three labourers. The ethnic divide is then further diluted when you include other Arabs and Europeans (not counting Americans because they are few). Look up the data from the Ministry of Economy on the UAE’s demographics and you will see what I mean. While it is true that people from the Indian Subcontinent account for a significant chunk of the UAE’s population, far too many of them are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
2- I am not saying the Iraqi woman’s comments are that of a minority. My point is that the smallest thing we can do for this group is to change our attitudes.
3- With virtually no education or skill and employment comprising of manual labour, you cannot expect these people to be exceptionally presentable. We can at least make them feel welcome.
4- My apologies for sounding so harsh, I did sound rude. I feel very strongly for poverty and believe that it takes very little to turn life around for someone. Paying for someone’s education in a Third World country is a start and for people here in the UAE, it costs nothing. You educate one person and many future generations have their chance at a better life.


Veiled Muslimah said...

An interesting array of comments. :)

I had a mixture of views on this article. Aside from the Guardian being biased, I felt that there was an element of truth in the article when it talked about the conditions of labourer. However, I felt that the 'whole picture' [Agreeing with one of Roshs comment here!] wasn't looked at when it came to the Emirates.

I know some things, like labour laws and prostitution are used again and again by people and media to pick on Dubai and the Arab Emirates, sometimes over-looking the good of the Country, however, again, I feel that these problems do exist within our society and shouldn't be over-looked.

Sadly, discrimination and racism also exist here. I felt that the Iraqi womans comment was completely uncalled for and was complete crass. If I had to sit next to a labourer on a Metro and regardless of the fact he was smelling, I'd try and hold out.

Also, its one thing to not sit next to someone if they're smelling, and other to not sit next to someone because of their RACE, implying that all that come from those nationalities smell. Which is first class racism.

BuJassem said...

to Anon 21 October, 2008 08:17:

It's interesting to note that the UAE or any country has no obligation to cater for the welfare for foreigners above what is requried by international law.

Let me elaborate.. if you come from abroad and have a job in the UAE or any other country then you're welcome as long as your employment continues and you don't break the law..etc.. we shouldn't confuse what the government does with what private companies do for profit etc..

the position in general is that if you get into financial difficulty then there are always avenues for you to leave and go back to your country. I believe the UAE has been very fair with this and has offered half a dozen amnesties for illegals in my lifetime..

i remember my time in the uk as a student.. i had to declare that i do not use any public money etc while i was studying.. same thing when i was working.. i was to get no public help at all as a foreigner.. fair enough.. the law is clear.. the state is there to protect its citizen's first.

what do ppl think?

of course this doesn't stop us being charitable but that's an extra.

Lirun said...

ill sit next to the labourers when i visit dubai..

Anonymous said...

After having lived in the country which I call home for the last 30 years I can firmly state, that all The Guardian has stated is nothing but the absolute truth. Day in day out I have seen people treated based on skin colour & religion. Abuse of Human right is a clear & present danger in UAE. Have a look at the neighbour of Dubai i.e. Sharjah which is a lawless state by itself, the less stated the better. I do agree with one point from Najla Al Awadhi, research needs to be done, not by The Guardian, but by the officials of UAE

Post a Comment

NOTE: By making a post/comment on this blog you agree that you are solely responsible for its content and that you are up to date on the laws of the country you are posting from and that your post/comment abides by them.

To read the rules click here

If you would like to post content on this blog click here