No respite for Asian workers on Gulf construction sites

A deserted road in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), March 27. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

The long ledge of Doha, the capital of Qatar, without the slightest walker; the huge interchanges of Dubai, the world city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), without the slightest car: the photos that have arrived in the last few days from these two Gulf emirates depict stationary cities, frozen by the measures containment. A table not completely accurate.

While activity there has slowed considerably, in application of measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 18 people among the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula, at least one sector, and not the least, continues to turn, as well in Qatar than in Dubai: construction.

In these two principalities, engaged in major construction policies, the workers, who are almost all migrants from South Asia, are transported every day to the construction sites while, at the same time, the authorities do not stop encouraging residents to stay at home, prohibiting any public gathering.

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In these times of health crisis, this two-speed treatment worries human rights NGOs. "Foreign workers face increased stress and anxiety, they feel that they are not as protected as other categories of the population"said Hiba Zayadin, in charge of the Gulf at Human Rights Watch.

In Dubai, the commercial capital of the UAE, where 611 Covid-19 patients and 5 deaths have been recorded, governments and businesses alike are required to spend at least 80% of their staff telecommuting. Construction is one of the "vital sectors" exempt from this measure, along with banks, pharmacies, supermarkets, police, energy and hospitals.

The decision is explained by the concern to limit as much as possible the economic breakage in an emirate which, unlike Abu Dhabi, possesses very little oil wealth, and of which the key sectors, retail trade, real estate and tourism, have suffered for several years from the drop in black gold prices.

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Continued construction was also expected to allow Dubai to meet the specifications of the Universal Exhibition, scheduled to open in October, south of the emirate. But Monday, March 30, coronavirus forces, the organizers of this global meeting decided to postpone it for a year. The International Exhibitions Bureau, the intergovernmental organization that oversees the World's Fair, is expected to formalize the decision shortly.


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