August 3, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 2: Scores of illegal workers from Andhra Pradesh are racing against time in Baghdad to complete what is being projected as the world's largest and most expensive US embassy in the world.
The US plans to open its diplomatic enclave in Baghdad, Iraq, by September and the task of meeting the deadline lies on the shoulders of workers from Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nizamabad districts. Illegal workers from Andhra Pradesh constitute a large labour force engaged in the construction of the new US embassy on a 42-hectare compound on the banks of the river Tigris. The US and Iraqi authorities have also employed workers from the Philippines and Bangladesh.
According to unofficial estimates, around 40,000 workers from Jagtyal and Sircilla in Karimnagar, Armoor in Nizamabad and Nirmal in Adilabad districts are employed by American and Iraqi forces in Iraq. Many of them are illegal and have made their entry into Iraq without the Iraqi visas. They are mainly engaged to work in military bunkers supplying food and taking care of the petty needs of the military forces. About a hundred are said to be working on the new US embassy site, about the size of the Vatican. The US is spending 592 million US dollars on the project.
The State government's NRI cell does not have a record on the AP workers in Iraq since 90 per cent of those employed there are illegal. The Andhra workers are picked up from Kuwait and UAE. Poor and unskilled workers from these backward districts of Telangana visit the Gulf countries on a visit or tourist visa and approach the local recruiting agents, who in turn hand them over to the US military officials for employment. Illegal Andhra workers are in great demand in the Arab world as they are considered a cheap labour source.
The Indian government has imposed restrictions on unskilled workers leaving for Iraq and this is the reason why they travel to the Gulf to be picked up by local recruiting agents to leave for Iraq.
"The major trouble we face is the risk of attacks by locals fighting against the presence of the US forces on Iraqi soil. We stay in bunkers but the money they pay us is quite good. In Karimnagar we can never earn so much money," says middle aged Tirupati Reddy of Laxmipur village in Jagtyal mandal. Tirupati Reddy worked in Baghdad for a couple of months.
With UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf tightening their immigration rules, unskilled labourers from backward Telangana districts are now preferring the strife-torn Iraq for employment. Since the workers are taken by US military aircraft, the visa and immigration rules are relaxed. The workers are free to stay as long as they wish and there's no immigration restriction on their stay. The return is also as smooth as their entry, those who worked in Iraq told this correspondent.
"I returned early as life was really hard for me in the bunker. Many from my village have been working there for the last two years. It is the question of adjusting to the hard life. Once we reached Iraq we were trained in wearing bullet proof jacket and hiding in bunkers," K Mahesh of Kondagutta village in Karimnagar pointed out.
The salary offered to them, however, is relatively high, but workers are often subjected to abuse. While unskilled labour from the State get about Rs 5000 a month on an average in UAE and other Gulf countries, those employed in Iraq are paid between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.
Ramana Reddy from Malial mandal in Karimnagar returned after working at the US embassy site for some time. He said working at the 21-building complex, that will house the new US diplomatic enclave, was quite hard.
"We do not know what happens the next moment in Baghdad. Though we are protected by the US forces, working in Iraq is really difficult. But we risk life for the sake of big money. We get three to six times more pay in Iraq than in Dubai. I was paid 1000 US dollars around Rs 41,000 a month," he said.
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