x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Labour of love for Dubai camp dwellers

Remittance payments sent home to India account for US$6.2 billion annually.

Surendran KB, an Indian expatriate, leaves the money exchange at Sonapur Labour Camp in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Surendran KB, an Indian expatriate, leaves the money exchange at Sonapur Labour Camp in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Mohammed Ali wants to build a house. Surendran KB wants to put his children through university. Hidayat Ali just wants to make sure his family doesn't starve.

All three have made the UAE their home, and while the reasons that bought them here are different, these three Indian nationals choose to stay because of the promise of a better life for them and their families through higher wages.

The residents of Sonapur - a vast collection of camps also known as the City of Gold - each month join hundreds of thousands of others in sending most of their salary back home.

Remittances from the UAE to India account for US$6.2 billion (Dh22.7bn) a year, last year's MasterCard Worldwide Insights report showed.

Hidayat Ali, 37, says that of the Dh1,300 he earns a month as a security guard, he keeps only Dh300 to pay for his own living expenses.

"It's not really enough for me but what can I do?" says Mr Ali, a father of three. "I have to send that much so my family can survive."

He came to Dubai eight years ago after a moderately successful career in India as a singer. But there he could only find employment for eight months of the year, during peak season.

Mr Ali left school early to pursue his singing so he does not have the option of seeking skilled work.

"I don't know how long I will stay here but there's no work for me back home," he says.

Saher Shaikh, the founder of the Adopt a Camp charity, says blue-collar workers in Dubai generally earn about one fifth more than they would in the subcontinent.

"It's not like they're flush with cash," she says. "It's not that much more but it's enough to tip the balance for them to be able to afford education for their kids, or better health care for their family.

"They don't expect to become rich fast. Their plan is to look after their family and have enough so that when they go home they can take it easy.

"As long as they get paid and don't belong to a company that abandons them, it normally works out."

Mohammed Ali, 30, sends home about 75 per cent of the Dh4,000 monthly salary he gets from working in a glass factory in Sharjah.

"I'm not going to spend my whole life here," he says. "In two years, I'll make enough money to purchase land. After another two years, I'll have enough money to start construction of a house.

"Once we're settled and have solved all of our financial problems in India, I'll go back."

KV Shamsudeen, chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, which gives financial advice to blue-collar workers, says Indian nationals often forget they need to save money when they arrive.

"They cannot live forever in this country, they have to go back," Mr Shamsudeen says.

"Once they realise that, they will start to save every month.

"They realise they need to sacrifice a little bit now for the future, then they fix a goal to make this amount of money."

Surendran KB, 53, a camp boss, says he was focused from the time he arrived. He sends about 65 per cent of his salary home to pay for his children's university costs.

"Once they've finished their education and have got jobs, then I'll go back to retire," Mr Surendran says.

"I couldn't have paid for it on the salary I would get in India."

He says he is not concerned about saving for the future as he is an ex-serviceman and expects to receive a pension in seven years. "I'm looking forward to retiring."

Another labour camp boss, Rana, says every one of the 1,250 men who live at his site sends money home, mostly for building a family house.

"Some are here for six or eight years, and all of them try to save money to build a home for their family," Rana says.

"That is their focus."



* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam