Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dubai boom and the reverse of the coin

(All images copyright Ghaith Abdul-Ahad) Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi journalist who writes for the Guardian and is also a contributor photographer for Getty Images. He photographed and wrote from behind the insurgent lines in Falluja and amongst the Shia militia in Najaf as well as covering the daily violence in Baghdad, Iraqi elections and investigating jihadi networks in Syria and Jordan. He has photographed for the Guardian the flip side of the housing boom in Dubai. In his article Abudl-Ahad says “I have left Dubai's spiraling towers, man-made islands and mega-malls behind and driven through the desert to the outskirts of the neighboring 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 neighborhood 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 laborers building the icons of architecture that are mushrooming all over the region.” On the workers tells him when he asks “How’s life?” “"What life? We have no life here. We are prisoners. We wake up at five, arrive to work at seven and are back at the camp at nine in the evening, day in and day out." All of these men are part of a huge scam that is helping the construction boom in the Gulf. Like hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, they each paid more than USD 1,500 to employment agents in India and Pakistan. They were promised double the wages they are actually getting, plus plane tickets to visit their families once a year, but none of the men in the room had actually read their contract. Only two of them knew how to read. "They lied to us," a worker with a long beard says. "They told us lies to bring us here. Some of us sold their land; others took big loans to come and work here." Over dinner, some more workers give Abdul-Ahad additional snippets about their lives: "My shift is eight hours and two overtime, but in reality we work 18 hours," one says. "The supervisors treat us like animals. I don't know if the owners [of the company] know." "There is no war, and the police treat us well," another chips in, "but the salary is not good." "That man hasn't been home for four years," says Ahmad, the chef for the night, pointing at a well-built young man. "He has no money to pay for the flight." A friend of Abdul-Ahad, a supposedly cultured Iraqi engineer said to him: "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 Dubai. "We will never sit next to Indians and Pakistanis with their smell," his wife explains. The engineer then continues and says: “"We need slaves. We need slaves to build monuments. Look who built the pyramids - they were slaves."

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