Friday, 2 March 2007

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - IV

Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 12, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 11: Thirty-year-old charming Chakali Siddaramulu boarded the flight to Dubai two years ago with the fond hope of making it big in the city of gold and fortune. He had seen his father toiling all through to make both ends meet and Siddaramulu wanted to give a happy retired life to his parents by earning the magical Dirhams.
But the Dame Luck willed otherwise. Today Siddaramulu lies in coma, with no attendant beside, in a Dubai hospital. His dreams are shattered and so are the hopes of his poverty-hit family back home in Nizamabad. An illegal migrant worker, Siddararamulu, met with an accident at a construction site on February 27, 2006. Since then he has been battling for life in comatose at Rashidiya Hospital in Dubai.
Unlike hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers or Kalli Valli, Siddaramulu had his passport with him when he met with the accident. The problem is that Siddaramulu had been sub-contracted four times and none of the companies is willing to bear the medical bill, which now runs into many thousand Dirhams.

"His condition is turning worse by the day. Excepting responding to external
stimuli, Siddaramulu has been a living-dead for over 12 months. His family is
poor and is unable to bear the medical expenses. We are looking for donors to clear the medical bills and send him to India," observes Joseph Bobby of Valley of Love, which has been taking care of Indian migrant workers in hospitals.
"The hi-fi life of this fastest growing city on earth masks the sorrows and
sufferings of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant construction workers who make up 30 per cent of the total population. And with no protection under UAE labour laws, death and injury always stare at the illegal construction labour, particularly those from the backward districts of Andhra Pradesh. Siddaramulu is just the tip of the iceberg ," says Joseph, who is being looked as a messiah by the injured workers.
Though death and injury at construction sites is one of most troubling factors,
UAE officials conveniently overlook it. They just limit their exercise to legal
migrants and do not bother to think of illegal construction workers, who constitute the majority among the non-nationals in the Emirates.
A visit to Rashidiya Hospital tells the sorrowful tales of Telugu migrant workers who need urgent medical attention, but has no money to pay for the surgery. Even those who managed to undergo emergency medicare are not in a position to leave the hospital, pending clearance of medical bills.
Lying on one of the beds in Rashidiya Hospital in Dubai is a Telugu-speaking person who calls himself "Shankaraiah". Except this name, he cannot remember or recall any name, not even his wife's name. He lost memory after he met with an accident and now stands as a personification of suffering of Telugu migrants in UAE. Like "Shankaraiah", there are hundreds of construction workers, who have either lost their limbs or mental balance and memory in accidents while on duty.
Worse, UAE officials do not seem to bother to maintain records of the death, injury or suicide cases of illegal migrant workers or Kalli Valli. This is clearly evident from a comparison of the figures available with local officials and those with the Indian authorities in the UAE. The disparity between the figures speak voluminous of the discrimination illegal Andhra migrant workers undergo in the foreign land.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai has recorded 971 death cases in 2005 and 1157 deaths in 2006. The number of deaths on construction sites and suicides run into a couple of hundreds. And most of the victims are from Andhra Pradesh, according to an official of the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
But UAE officials put the figures for all nationalities including Indians for the last three years to hardly a hundred. This simply shows that UAE authorities record only the deaths and suicide cases of legal migrant workers, who are on a valid employment visa. And UAE has over five lakh illegal migrant workers, mostly from Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts in Andhra Pradesh.
According to sources, nearly one-third of deaths that are reported to the Indian Consulate and other Indian authorities are work-related. Indian Consulate officials admit that of the 1157 deaths that were reported in 2006, about 100 are suicide cases. But there is no official break-up of statistics on deaths of illegal migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh.
According to officials, at least 25 labourers are admitted in UAE hospitals with critical injuries every month. About 60 to 65 per cent of migrant workers needing medical attention are from Andhra Pradesh.
"These people do not have money to pay for medical bills. Since they are not legally employed we find it hard to convince labour courts on compensation. Several workers have become mentally insane due to head injuries. They cannot even recollect the names of their family members or the name of their village or district. We recognise that they are from Andhra Pradesh because they speak Telugu. They do not have even passports or other supporting documents," Joseph told this correspondent.
Chittepu Srinivas Reddy from Nizamabad district speaks incoherently and doctors advice him physiotherapy at least for one year. His IQ is 13/15 as against normal of 15/15. His father died two months ago and he was not informed of the tragedy that befell him. Srinivas Reddy sold away his ancestral land in Nizamabad to buy visa and air ticket to Dubai.
According to Consul-General of India in Dubai Venu Rajamony, they have taken up the cases for compensation of workers who have died while on duty. As many as 53 cases were settled in 2006 and a sum of Rs 203.5 million was received as compensation. The amount was forwarded to district authorities in India for onward distribution to the beneficiaries.

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