Hundreds of thousands of workers come from the subcontinent in search of a better life, not so much for themselves but for their parents, siblings and children.
Stories of success and sacrifice
Every year, thousands of expatriate workers come to the UAE to try to fulfil the dreams they left back home. While their services, from the unskilled labourer to the professional, are essential to the building of this nation, their stories of sacrifice come with another success the money they send home.
For some, such as Mushahid Khan, from Pakistan, his departure meant the difference between his family plunging even deeper into poverty or attaining a decent standard of living. For others, like KB Murali, from India, more than half a life spent working and living in the UAE has meant fulfilling an obligation to himself, to make sure his siblings were able to go to university and earn professional degrees.
And the Hussein brothers, from Bangladesh, have been able to put a sturdy roof over their ailing mother's head. Although the exact number of expatriate workers in the UAE fluctuates, it is estimated that the GCC employs about 13 million foreigners, 66 per cent of whom are from Asia, according to Ralph Chami, the Middle East division chief at the International Monetary Fund Institute. What is certain is that entire towns and villages in the subcontinent are supported by the salaries of those who work in the Gulf.
The GCC receives 650,000 workers annually from India. In 2008, these workers, and the ones already in place, sent US$13 billion (Dh47.7bn) in remittances to India, according to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. UAE Exchange, a major foreign currency trader, estimates that workers from South Asia, including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, each send back about Dh400 a month. In a World Bank report released in July, analysts noted that although worldwide remittance numbers were down due to the recession, the flow of cash to South Asia from the GCC remained positive but the rate of increase has slowed.
"Indeed in some countries growth of remittances seems to have accelerated in 2009," the report said, alluding to Pakistan. "This is in part due to the fact that the GCC countries, a major destination for Asian migrants, have not significantly reduced hiring migrants. Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example report falling remittance inflows from the US while the flows from the GCC countries continue to remain strong."
What the numbers alone cannot tell is the way the remittance inevitably transforms lives. It allows families access to education, better standards of living and, in some cases, to break through the rigid class barriers that exist in the subcontinent.
In a village in Bangladesh, the only house made of concrete has iron bars on the windows and an ornate iron door. It speaks of the effort of three brothers who work in Abu Dhabi. It took Ismail, 30, Mayur, 28, and Nur Hussein, 20, more than a decade to save for and build their dream house for their ailing mother, their growing family and livestock. Their father's small tobacco business in Chittagong was not making enough to cover the family expenses, so Mayur was the first to leave in search of work that would support a family of nine, including two brothers and four sisters. Three months after Mayur arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1998 to work as an office attendant, their father died of malaria. Ismail said that within 10 days of taking their father to the hospital, he was dead. Within six months, Ismail left behind his wife and newborn son and joined Mayur in Abu Dhabi, working with a catering company. In 2006, Nur joined them and found work as a cleaner in a school. Mayur provided the cash to bring over Ismail, and the two brothers saved and paid another Dh9,000 (US$2,450) for Nur's visa. Mayur earns Dh960 a month, and Ismail averages Dh800 a month, including tips. Nur earns about Dh600 and the brothers now send home Dh1,000 every month. "I don't ever tell them how difficult it is for us here," Mayur said. "It was in my destiny that I was forced to move here. I look around me and there are people who face a lot more difficulties in sending money home than I do. There are others who face a lot more hardship. But I could not earn this much in Bangladesh at a job." The past three years they have concentrated on building a house that Mayur says is "now 95 per cent complete" and marrying off two of their sisters. During the construction and weddings, they doubled their monthly remittances. The two-storey concrete house cost them 110,000 Bangladeshi taka (Dh5,800), and took three years of "hard work and savings," according to Mayur. The construction, however, is ongoing. "As the family grows, so will the house. So we will add on another floor when we have more children," Mayur said. Their sense of obligation is deeply rooted in providing for the family due to the absence of their father, and their mother's worry about marrying off their sisters. Mayur, who now works as a security guard, would like to move back to Bangladesh. "Sometimes, I dream of saving enough to start a business in Bangladesh in a few years. I have seen some people who have but then there are others who have worked here for 30 years and have no bank balance. I don't want that. But to open a business in Bangladesh will take a lot of money, so let's see, who knows? "But first, I have to think of my wedding, then we still have to marry off two of our sisters. These are obligations. One must keep them." firstname.lastname@example.org