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Abandoned in Saudi Desert Camps due to Kingdom’s economic slump, Migrant workers won’t Leave without Pay

As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests

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A Syrian refugee family walks towards the new Syrian camp of Azraq, . Image source: VOA
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igrant construction workers say they will not accept a government offer of free flights home unless they receive months of unpaid wages.

The plight of the workers, stranded for months in crowded dormitories at labor camps with little money and limited access to food, water or medical care, has alarmed their home countries and drawn unwelcome attention to the conditions of some of the 10 million foreign workers on whom the Saudi economy depends.

The government says it is trying to resolve the situation by giving the workers- who normally need their employers’ permission to leave the country – the right to go home and free transport back. It is also granting them special permission to stay while they look for other jobs.

But workers say they fear that if they leave they will end up with nothing at all.

“We will wait here – one year, two years. We will wait for our money. Then we will go back,” said Sardar Naseer, 35, a Pakistani welder at the Qadisiya Labor Camp, which houses around 2,000 workers from construction conglomerate Saudi Oger.

Naseer says he is owed 22,000 riyals ($5,900) after receiving no wages for eight months. Workers at the camp, about 20 km (13 miles) from the center of Riyadh, said they had stopped work about four months ago and none had been paid since January.

Oger, the family firm of billionaire former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The Hariri family did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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In July, Oger stopped providing food, electricity, maintenance and medical services at several of its camps including Qadisiyah, prompting the Saudi Labor Ministry to take over the provision of basic services there, men at the camp said.

They sleep six to eight to a tiny room, with stray cats and cockroaches lingering on torn bedsheets. They sit on the floor to eat food rations provided by the Labor Ministry or their embassies.

A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA
A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA

There is no regular supply of clean drinking water – a filter on a public water fountain meant to be changed daily has not been serviced in a year – so they are forced to buy bottled water with their own money.

Saudi Oger, which employs some 30,000 workers, has built mega-projects including Riyadh’s palatial 500-room Ritz Carlton hotel and all-female Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University.

It is one of Saudi Arabia’s two most prominent construction companies, along with the Saudi Binladin Group. Both have faced financial difficulties as the world’s biggest oil exporter has suffered from the fall in the price of crude.

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Construction projects have been halted or slowed and revenue has fallen. As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests.

Countries including India, Pakistan, and the Philippines have sent senior officials to Riyadh to press authorities to assist their workers. Indian officials said this month that more than 6,200 former Indian employees of Oger were stranded in Saudi camps after being laid off and owed wages.

“Good Image”

Two weeks ago, after Indian authorities raised their concerns, King Salman set aside 100 million riyals of government money to help the stranded workers, mostly from Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Saudi Labor Minister Mufrej al-Haqbani told Reuters on Wednesday that several distressed local firms, including Saudi Binladin Group, had now started paying overdue wages. Binladin executives promised him that payments would be completed by September, he said.

Oger is the only company still broadly withholding payments, and the Labor Ministry will press foreigners’ wage claims through the kingdom’s labor dispute system, Haqbani said, without specifying when claims might be resolved.

“Saudi Oger – now we’ll take it to the courts. Now we are responsible for that. We’ve hired lawyers,” he said. “As the ministry, we will go through the labor dispute courts to go after Saudi Oger and to collect the claims.”

He also said the troubles at Oger were not a sign of problems with Saudi Arabia’s overall employment of foreign workers, most of whom were choosing to remain in the country.

“This is a small segment…of the labor market. We have more than 10 million expats working happily here in the country. When a company like Saudi Oger fails to comply with the rules, this will never destroy the good image of our labor market.”

Philippines Secretary of Labor Silvestre Bello, who visited Riyadh for talks with Haqbani this week, said that with the assistance of Saudi authorities, about 1,000 Filipino workers could be sent home by mid-September.

At the camp, Mohammed Niaz, 42, said his two daughters back in Pakistan had stopped attending school because he could no longer send money home for fees.

“I’m wasting my time. I want to go to Pakistan,” he said.

But he added that he refused to leave Saudi Arabia without the 13,000 riyals which Oger owed him. “My family has no money. My daughters are out of school. How can I go to Pakistan?” (VOA)

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Rampant Sexual Harassment of Children & Women in Islam

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place

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MUSLIM MAN
How safe are Muslim women? Wikimedia

Gaurav Tyagi

  • Sexual harassment of women and children is a serious problem in Pakistan
  • Kidnapping of girl child is also very common
  • It is not only a problem in Pakistan but in all countries where Islam prevails

Khaled Ahmed a senior Pakistani journalist and the consulting editor of ‘Newsweek Pakistan’ stated that raping and killing of children is a serious problem in Pakistan.

According to him three incidents were reported on January 28 from different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A girl child was also kidnapped, raped and killed in Quetta, Balochistan.

1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
Muslim women and children are subject to rampant sexual harassment. Wikimedia Commons

A 24 year old man was arrested for raping and killing seven year old girl, Zainab in a city called Kasur, which lies south of Lahore in the Punjab province. This pervert is a religious person and sings songs praising the so called holy prophet of Muslims for a living. He killed seven girls before sexually assaulting Zainab for four days then killing and throwing her dead body in a rubbish dump on January 9.

Police treated her abduction as a routine matter. As per an official count ten children, five of them girls were sexually assaulted and murdered in Kasur within a short span of time.

The first of such incident was reported way back in 2015. This reveals the incompetence of Police and administration in Kasur. Khalid says these sort of unfortunate incidents are rapidly rising all over Pakistan.

Also Reading: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Eight boys were murdered after criminal assaults in 2017. In Sargodha, the body of a violated 15 year old girl was dumped in the fields on January 11. In Pattoki, an 11 year old boy was strangled after being sexually assaulted. In Sheikhupura another eight year old girl was abducted, raped and strangled to death before being thrown in a dustbin.

In Kasur, the Police registered cases against the Plaintiffs for reporting the crime instead of arresting the offenders. The local judge incarcerated the poor parents.

The victims of a gang of rapists even went to Lahore and protested in front of the assembly, after which the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif heard their grievances for four hours. He promised to help the victims with lawyers and transportation but ultimately Sharif didn’t provide any assistance. (1)

Muslim women
Muslim women are being exploited in the name of religion.

‘Bacha bazi’ an old tradition of Afghanistan has been documented in the award winning film ‘The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan’ featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film depicts accounts of Afghan boys subjected to sexual slavery.

According to ‘The Guardian’; “The bacha (child) dancers are often abused children, whose families have rejected them. Their owners or masters can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery as concubines.”

An Afghan boy Omid says that he is paid approximately $2 for the night and often gang-raped. He mentioned that he cannot go to police for help because the perpetrators are powerful and rich men. The police cannot do anything against them.

The ‘New York Times’ wrote that American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys sexually abused by their Afghan allies. The Americans are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of ‘Afghan culture’.

‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran tells deeply distressing stories of vulnerable children from Peshawar.

These unfortunate kids try to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves. They get regularly raped as well as gang raped.

Children are being kidnapped and raped on almost daily basis.

According to one man, “Once there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him”. This pervert boastfully admitted to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. (2)

More than 150 women filed criminal complaints, three quarters of them for sexual assault. Two cases of rape were reported in the infamous mass sex assault by Muslim asylum seekers on girls and women in the German city of Cologne on New Years Eve of 2016. (5)

David Spicer led a review in the wake of ‘Operation Sanctuary’, which saw 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, U.K.

The exploitation was not recognized in adults. This operation identified approximately 700 victims across the Northumbria Police area, 108 in Newcastle.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Mr. Spicer carried out the serious case review for the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. He said that “adults were being targeted, groomed and exploited besides children” but the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them from ‘making bad choices’ or forming ‘inappropriate relationships’.

The report also examined the exploitation of boys and men but said it was complex as well as hidden and operated differently to female victims.

Mr. Spicer stated, “The low incidence of identified cases is likely to be a significant under-representation of the abuse occurring”

One of Spicer’s 33 recommendations includes a need for research into the cultural background of abusers, majority of which are from a ‘predominantly Asian or British minority ethnic culture or background’.

Muslim women and children deserve greater justice. Wikimedia Commons

Most of these abusers are British born but came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Muslim communities.

The Quillam Foundation think tank, which focuses on counter-extremism said 84% of the 264 convicted offenders of gang grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of South Asian Muslim heritage.

David Spicer mentioned that the perpetrators he spoke to ‘displayed no regret and spoke in a derogatory manner about lack of morals in British girls”. (3)

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place.

Sabica says; “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places. I’ve been harassed, not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident”

As soon as Sabica’s post went viral on social media, a large number of Muslim women started sharing their sad experiences of sexual molestation at religious places with the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

“Each time my mom and her sisters went to Hajj, they were groped-disgusting ppl w/no morals. Toxic patriarchy; keep doing what you’re doing, Mona”- Hassan Saleh.

Muslim
Muslim women are not safe even in the place of their worship. Twitter

“Had to stop going for Taraweeh and Qiyam one Ramadan because of some gentlemen. Stayed mum because I thought no one’d believe me, or I’d be accused of having an overactive imagination. #MosqueMeToo is our skeleton in the closet”- Kali. (4)

It is quite clear from the above mentioned ghastly criminal acts that Islam has a chronic problem regarding sexual abuse of children and women.

Sources;

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/unsafe-spaces-5057826/
  2. https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29547/the-filthy-culture-of-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tyne-43153556
  4. http://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/muslim-women-sharing-their-sexual-harassment-incidents-at-hajj-has-shaken-up-netizens-metoo-5058222/
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12086473/Suspects-in-Cologne-sex-attacks-claimed-to-be-Syrian-refugees.html

(The author, Gaurav Tyagi, is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.)