Homeless migrants sleep rough beneath Dubai's skyscrapers as Covid employment crisis bites
Migrant workers have been left penniless by the coronavirus lockdown in Dubai
Dubai is seeing a rare spike in homelessness as migrant workers penniless from the Covid downturn have begun to sleep in parks under the glittering skyscrapers.
Workers from Asia and Africa say they are trapped after losing their jobs and running out of money to return home.
Migrant workers who spoke to The Telegraph said they were abandoned after losing their jobs in the wake of the economic downturn.
With no jobs or expired visas, many have gathered in parks in Dubai's poorer Satwa area and asked for help with repatriation flights home.
Homelessness and poverty are usually not visible in the most colorful city in the United Arab Emirates.
White-collar jobs have also been threatened by the UAE pandemic as many UK expats have been returning home since the coronavirus. Dubai's economy is geared towards high consumer spending in the hospitality, luxury real estate and travel sectors.
Oxford Economics, a British forecaster, estimates that 900,000 jobs are at risk out of a population of less than 10 million people.
900,000 jobs in Dubai are threatened in a country of just 10 million people
Migrant workers from poorer countries receive low wages, work long hours, and often live in cramped dormitories that have been coronavirus breeding grounds.
Many also pay fees to recruiters in their home country, a practice common for low-paying jobs in the Gulf.
Susil Kumara, one of a group of Sri Lankans now awaiting repatriation to a Satwa Park, was an “office boy” for a company in Dubai for five years before losing his job in July. After his residency visa and accommodation ended, he joined others in the park two weeks ago.
Another, Buddhima Egalla, a graphic designer, slept with two other men on a dirty mattress in the park for eight days. He came to Dubai to find work on a three-month tourist visa, which he renewed twice before running out of money.
Nearby, a tearful Jemeela Abdul Salam says she has been in the park for about two weeks after she lost her housemaid job.
"The police tell us to go to the embassy, but the embassy cannot help either," said Egalla. The Sri Lankan Consulate has now provided them with temporary accommodation as they await repatriation.
While the UAE has offered amnesties for large fines, many cannot yet afford airline tickets or exit fees.
Most migrants cannot afford exit fees or flights home and get stuck in Dubai
Since embassies and authorities are slow to act, private donors rely on providing flight tickets. Others are taken to temporary accommodation camps by the Dubai police if space is available.
When contacted, the Dubai Government Media Bureau did not answer questions about homelessness, but said they "provide comprehensive assistance" to the unemployed and that Dubai Police are providing emergency shelter.
More than 480,000 Indians, 60,000 Pakistani and 40,000 Filipinos have been repatriated since the outbreak began, according to the respective consulates. There are no reliable estimates of how many migrant workers are unemployed, but the Consulate of the Philippines in Dubai says around 30,000 Filipinos have lost their jobs - but many more have stayed in the UAE on their “no work, no pay” basis Employer.
Isthiaq Raziq of the Sri Lankan Welfare Association says they cannot provide emergency shelter as they don't have government approval but are now coordinating returns with the embassy.
The association is also relying on airfare donors after their main source of income, an annual concert in March, was canceled due to the pandemic. Repatriating citizens is costly, Razik said, as they have to pay exit fees and quarantine and airfare in Colombo.
"These people are very helpless, they have lost their jobs and they don't have a single cent to pay."
Nalinda Wijerathna, Dubai's consul general of Sri Lanka, said 9,000 people had been repatriated and about 6,000 were still waiting. Limited capacity at Colombo's quarantine facilities resulted in delays in the availability of return flights.
Jemeela Abdul Salam has been living in a park for two weeks and is waiting to be returned to Sri Lanka
He said more people needed help than it could provide, and some were trying to skip waiting lists by going outside.
Anthony Iwueze was part of a group of 35 Nigerians who slept in a rubbish-strewn Satwa park in August after his company failed to pay his salary for three months. He joined a group of Nigerians who slept outside their consulate before police took them to the park.
“We suffered. We just want to go back, ”he said at the time.
Stephen Oguntade was there too after being "betrayed" by a recruiter. Mr Oguntade, a nutritionist, came to Dubai on a tourist visa in January to find work. He paid Dh2000 to a recruiter for a security job, but was taken to a shelter and then abandoned.
The two have since been returned to Nigeria by flight donors.
"It's good to be home again," said Oguntade from Lagos. "I'm starting to build my life from scratch."
Mahnaz Faquih, one of many volunteers who stepped in to help, has been coordinating flights for homeless migrant workers for the past six months. The Indian mother of two relies on her network of friends and "friends of friends" to find airfare donors and has bought about 20 herself. The UAE has strict fundraising laws, which means flights must be paid for by a single donor.
45 Sri Lankan migrants slept poorly
Ms. Faquih, who owns a chain of medical clinics, believes she helped repatriate around 700 people - including recently a group of 13 pregnant women from Sri Lanka and Ghana.
Coordination now requires your attention around the clock.
Other volunteers The Telegraph spoke to did not speak publicly for fear of repercussions.
Some had been asked to stop providing food to prevent more people from showing up on the streets.
One man who runs city-wide food drives says the common theme for many people is "no work for months, lots of liabilities, no money for housing and living on one meal a day".
“We gave food for a few weeks to a 200-person labor camp in Sharjah whose employer had been in prison since August last year. The sad part is that most of these people don't get paid for months and all they want is to return home. "
The man said the government needs to do more to protect workers, saying that most of the country's embassies are too slow or lacking in resources and NGOs are lacking the scale.
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