x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Police reach out to labourers

Suneesh was scared when officers arrived at his camp; but after hearing them address his rights and duties, he wanted to hear more.

Workers in Musaffah queue for a blood-sugar check as part of the Ministry of Interior workshop.
Workers in Musaffah queue for a blood-sugar check as part of the Ministry of Interior workshop.

MUSAFFAH // Officers from the Ministry of Interior are making the rounds of labour camps, spreading a message to the workers: you have rights, you have responsibilities, and the police are your friends. On Tuesday night, Lt Col Salah Alghoul, the director of the of the Office of Culture of Respect for Law, which is part of the Ministry of Interior, addressed a camp in Musaffah.

He and other officers spoke about the criminal repercussions of bootlegging and warned workers against succumbing to SMS fraud. Four hundred and fifty workers listened in the auditorium of Gulf Piping Company's labour camp. "I know you are so tired," Lt Col Alghoul said to the workers, who had gathered after dinner. "But we are here today to make it clear that we are with you. "The UAE police is everybody's police. We are not only for one community. We need everyone's help to build this country. Don't be afraid of the police."

Lt Col Alghoul asked workers to refrain from violence in the labour camps, linking it to alcohol and dissent. "Violence is not allowed," he said. "Your camp is your home. Can you imagine if you did this to your own house and broke windows? If you lose your temper, you could lose your life or job. There is no need for that kind of crime." Col Abdul Aziz al Shamsi, Capt Saleh al Rashdi and Dr Jassem Mohammed, also officers from the Ministry of Interior, discussed the dangers of bootlegging.

For those found selling alcohol, sentences can range from one to three years in prison followed by deportation. "If you have a licence, you can drink," Lt Col Alghoul said. "But otherwise you can lose your job and have to leave the country because of five minutes of enjoyment." He later asked workers to discreetly report those who sell bootlegged alcohol in camps by using police hotlines, such as 999.

"It is happening in nearby areas," said Thomas, 33, who did not want to identify himself for fear of repercussions from fellow workers. "A lot of people use alcohol but everyone is afraid of telling the police in front of so many other workers. One is not willing to reveal the facts." The workers applauded as Lt Col Alghoul's words were translated into Malayalam and the officers handed out booklets titled, Labor Rights & Duties. The booklets were accompanied by a slide presentation that reiterated many of the officers' points, such as the right to seek a translator at a police station; not to sign any document that they do not understand; and the freedom to practice one's religion.

"No one can harass you," Lt Col Alghoul said. "We face those problems at the police station where there are complaints about someone being forced to follow another religion. Everyone can safely practice their religion." Suneesh PV, 32, an electrician from Kerala, browsed through the book and said: "At first when I saw the officers coming into our camp, I was scared. Normally they only come when there is a problem. But hearing him speak, I think it is very useful. They should do more of this."

Lt Col Alghoul warned workers that if someone stopped them without wearing a police uniform, they had the right to ask for identification and not be detained. "You have the right not to go with him," Lt Col Alghoul said. "Even if he says he is from the CID, you have the right to ask. Nobody can attack you. You have the right to complain at a police station. When you come there, we have to deal with you like you are our brother, or if you are older, then like our father."

Farooq Fazil, 25, a scaffolder from Kerala, said it was an honour to listen to police officers speak to him at his camp. "I will for sure be able to advise my friends now if they get in trouble," Mr Fazil said. "I know what to do now." Before the workshop started, Lt Col Alghoul, Col al Shamsi and Capt al Rashdi joined the workers for a medical check-up organised by the Lifeline Hospital that measured cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Workers also were screened for chronic diseases.

@Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae