x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Residents glad to see labourers moved

Residents and shop owners in Mohammed bin Zayed City have backed the Government's decision to move labour camps

Construction workers wait to board buses at the end of the day from a construction site in Mohammed Bin Zayed City.
Construction workers wait to board buses at the end of the day from a construction site in Mohammed Bin Zayed City.

ABU Dhabi // Residents and shop owners in Mohammed bin Zayed City have backed the Government's decision to move labour camps that house more than 100,000 workers, claiming that the men are a source of crime and anxiety. Many workers, however, say that although their new lodgings are likely to be better than the overcrowded camps they currently occupy, many workers have said they would prefer to stay where they are because they are near shops, taxis and public transport. But Umm Ahmad, an Emirati resident, said the camps were a "huge problem" and the men should be relocated sooner rather than later. "This is supposed to be a modern city made for families," she said. Mrs Ahmad described the camps as "old and filthy", and claimed that their smelly septic systems had sparked her children's asthma. The sprawling camps are opposite 13 buildings, including the recently opened Mazyad Mall, Etihad Airways staff accommodations, four office towers and a hotel. Next door is the residential area, largely occupied by Emiratis. Outside the camps are abandoned cars, tyres, sofas and cupboards. Rubbish litters the streets and exposed electricity wires hang above pools of water and near inflammable items such as insect repellent. As their population has grown, the camps have become untenable, lacking proper safety and security features, and clashing with the increasing Emirati population. This month, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council ordered that the camps be closed and new accommodation be found elsewhere, beginning within two months. The workers have been banned from Mazyad Mall on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 7pm and 10pm after complaints that they were responsible for muggings, thefts, harassment and leering. Security guards were told not to allow workers into the mall if they were not "clean and tidy". Mrs Ahmad said that on more than one occasion she had been hit from behind by a worker outside the mall at night. "They pretend it was not intentional but they do it too often," she said. "They do everything to catch your attention. To my husband, it is a taboo for me to go to the mall after eight in the evening." An Emirati resident, who identified himself as Abdulrahman, said: "We had to go to Abu Dhabi or Baniyas to do the shopping. It is now okay because we have the new mall. It will be even better if they are relocated." His wife added: "In the evenings, I cannot go to the mall, only when a man in the family is with me." Business owners said it was risky to set up shop in the area because of the large number of workers who visited with no plan to buy. Ammar Riad, a 26-year-old Syrian, was one of those reluctant to invest. He decided to rent a shop, where he sells gifts, after the mall and municipality told him that the camps would be moved. He said one problem with the camps was random parking. "Just like we get fined for doing such things, we call for measures to be enforced here," he said. "Drivers can be fined in Abu Dhabi for parking in a way that is inconvenient to others. Here, workers park around a dozen lorries in front of the mall. "Emiratis have built nice villas here, the city is flourishing and has all sorts of facilities. Camps do not suit the city, especially those camps. Nobody would mind if they were organised and clean. "Until they are relocated - that could take six months or a year - certain measures should be taken to reduce the problem. "The camps should be better maintained, there should be more restrictions on their visits to the mall, less lorries parking in front of the mall, and fines for leaving rubbish outside." Khalid Shaaban, an Egyptian salesman at the Anizan mobile phone shop, recently sold 10 mobiles over three days to labourers, but still wants them to leave. "Many people, especially locals, when they see workers in the shop, either do not come in or they leave quickly," he said. "In the long run, I prefer locals as customers." Ahmad Rashid al Isaa'i, an Emirati who owns the antiques shop Venice Art, said the labourers had the same right to shop at the mall as everyone else but he was concerned about their "personal look". "They come straight from work," he said. "They are smelly and not clean. They don't come to buy, they come for a change of scenery." Although the price of his merchandise precluded the workers from shopping there, they could still undermine his and other businesses, he said. "Take, for example, Zayed City shopping centre. Although it is inside the city, many locals do not go there because it is reputed as a destination for workers. Locals would go to Abu Dhabi Mall instead. "Reputation is key. I am, as a businessman, very concerned about the mall's reputation." However, Lynjie Lingatong, a Filipina saleswoman at the Golden Goal raffle tickets shop, said if the labourers went she would lose her best customers. "They are our main buyers. Out of every 500 tickets sold, only one local buys from us. These kinds of tickets are popular with workers." hhassan@thenational.ae