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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Workers offer another side to the story

Those who criticise conditions in workers’ camps often ignore the bigger picture
The money UAE workers earn could have a transformative impact on their lives. Delores Johnson / The National
The money UAE workers earn could have a transformative impact on their lives. Delores Johnson / The National

This week The National has reported on the condition of Abu Dhabi’s labour camps, touring the Saadiyat Accommodation Village and Industrial City Abu Dhabi. The former facility is home to 7,000 migrant workers, the latter accommodates thousands more.

In the past, these facilities have attracted plenty of criticism from observers keen to poke away at any problem they could find – from poor standards of catering, to lack of facilities and hygiene issues. Thankfully, these days residents report fewer problems at the facilities we toured. The overwhelming message, delivered so eloquently by one Bangladeshi resident of the Mussaffah accommodation, was “everything is good now”.

We can, of course, only report the facts as we find them, but we would also encourage the managers and owners of the city’s labour camps to look beyond these glowing endorsements and seek to continue to improve the services on offer – whether that be the cinema under construction at the Mussaffah facility or the cricket pitches at Saadiyat Accommodation Village. This accommodation is often the only affordable option for many migrant workers, but affordable should never equal substandard.

It’s worth remembering that where large groups of men live there will always be problems – that much is a fact of life wherever you are in the world – and it is up to the authorities to act sensitively when issues do crop up.

But the real story that pulsates from these camps is the one that few of the sceptics want to report, and that’s because it’s full of hope and transformation. The money that migrant workers earn in this country and send back home changes lives all across South Asia and other parts of the developing world.

Remittances flow out from Mussaffah, Saadiyat and any number of similar facilities around the country, supporting thousands of families overseas. This money puts food on tables, buys clothes, supports education and builds houses. In most cases, it is sent back to places where there are fewer job opportunities and where life can be far tougher than it is here.

For those who seek to criticise, this part of the story conflicts with the accepted wisdom. It’s a shame that not everyone wants to hear both sides of what is undoubtedly a complex narrative.