x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abandoned construction staff plead with consulates to help them

Hundreds of construction workers stranded in Sharjah labour camps criticised the Indian and Pakistani consulates yesterday for doing little to help them.

Safeer Ahmad, centre, one of the nearly 1,400 Atlantic Emirates Group employees, speaks during a press conference with his colleagues in Dubai yesterday.
Safeer Ahmad, centre, one of the nearly 1,400 Atlantic Emirates Group employees, speaks during a press conference with his colleagues in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // Hundreds of construction workers stranded in Sharjah labour camps criticised the Indian and Pakistani consulates yesterday for doing little to help them. Nearly 1,400 workers of Atlantic Emirates Group, a Dubai-based company, have been living without water or electricity for several months after the company's owner left the country.

The Ministry of Labour intervened after the situation was brought to its attention in March, sending hundreds of labourers home in the past few weeks. But many still languish in the camps. "Following the media coverage, many welfare groups and individuals have offered us food and relief," Sunil Kumar Challil, one of the workers, said yesterday. "However, no help has come for us from the Indian consulate, who should actually be the ones helping us."

Specifically, the Indian Community Welfare Committee, a volunteer organisation at the consulate, did not offer any help despite being aware of the situation through media reports, the workers claimed. Sanjay Verma, the Indian consul general, said the responsibility for the welfare of the workers lay primarily with the company. "We have been in constant touch with the company and it is taking care of the workers. We can only intervene if the company is not able to handle the situation," said Mr Verma.

Mr Verma said 187 Indian workers were sent home on Thursday and another 81 were expected to leave last night. "The fact that so many people are being sent back in quick time is progress from our point of view," Mr Verma said. The consul general added that the report received said the company was taking care of food for the workers. But Mr Challil said this was not the case: "We are dependent on credit extended to us by the neighbourhood grocery stores and restaurants for our daily needs. The shop owners were finding it difficult to extend the credit for such a long period."

Similar complaints were made by Pakistani workers. "We approached [the Pakistani consulate] and requested help, but they kept giving us excuses and never bothered helping us," said Pakistani Shabbir Ahmed. There are still more than 100 Pakistani workers stranded in Sharjah. The Pakistani consulate could not be reached for comment yesterday. The workers are demanding payment of all their back pay and a return to their home country. There are still more than 700 workers, whom the labour ministry is repatriating in groups. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae