Dubai Idol photos: the Champ of Camps labour talent show
AND the winner of the 2013 Champ of the Camps – the “Dubai Idol” of the the Sonapur Labor camp is…
Dhruy Bakshi, an Indian security guard, 26, left, and Zulifqar al-Qureshi, a physical labourer of Pakistan.
Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means “City of Gold”. In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.
Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. “To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell,” he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal’s village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they’d pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.
As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since.
Venkatesan’s arrival was typical: he had been brought from India by a company supplying workers to the construction industry.
He was reliant on them for the right to live and work in the Gulf and he lived in a labour camp provided by the company – 85 men in a nine-roomed house.
The bedrooms sleep eight, sometimes 12, people. The bathrooms are squeezed into cupboards and are shared by 25 men.
The conditions are basic, but there is a reason why people like Venkatesan come to Dubai: money.
A construction worker here can earn up to 10 times what he would get in India.
The event is a “rare break from the labourers. The contest takes in a quiz show, showmanship and some singing,” it says here.
I’ve been to the camp. It’s grotty and overcrowded. And it might get worse in Dubai:
Stuart Poole-Robb, the CEO of KCS, a London-based consultancy, once worked in the UAE helping with security for a petroleum facility. He said conditions in the labour camps could pose a risk to the UAE’s broader stability.
“I am stunned salaries are still at the level they are,” Poole-Robb told Al Jazeera. “By treating people like this they [the Emirates] are opening themselves up to serious problems.”
Agents working for Iran, a country the Gulf states fear, were stirring up trouble in the labour camps around the petroleum facility, he alleged, and bad working conditions made some workers receptive to their overtures.
“The camps could end up acting like a Trojan horse,” he said. “These workers deserve a living wage like anyone else.”
Get a load of all that fun they’re having…