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Saturday, May 8, 1999 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK


World: Middle East

Gulf migrant workers turn to suicide



By Gulf Correspondent Frank Gardner

A growing number of South Asian labourers in the Gulf are being driven to suicide by appalling working conditions, according to a senior police officer in the United Arab Emirates.

Major Hassan Al-Khaiyal, of the Sharjah Criminal Investigation Department, said there had been 13 suicides in that small Gulf emirate - one of seven that make up the UAE - in the last three months alone.

Major Al-Khaiyal said unfair and intolerable working conditions were the two main causes behind such suicides.

He was quoted in the local paper, Gulf News, as blaming employers for caring more about profits than the welfare of their workers.

He listed some of the factors driving labourers to take their own lives; chief amongst them being employers failure to pay salaries on time or at all.

Most manual labourers in the Gulf come from India, Pakistan, and other South-Asian countries where many have extended families relying on the monthly remittances they sent home.

A body found hanging from a rope in the room of a labour camp is usually how police in Sharjah discover the suicide of an Asian worker.

A charity worker, who asked not to be named, told the BBC that in some cases, penniless Asian workers had been known to commit suicide by walking in front of fast moving traffic.

She said they did this so that their families could collect the mandatory blood money that must be paid by the driver in compensation.

Major Al-Khaiyal said another contributing factor towards workers' low morale was the lack of shelter during the summer months.

Throughout the Gulf, it is common to see Asian construction workers resting flat out on the sand beneath a tree at midday while the summer temperature exceeds 40C (104 degrees Fahrenheit).



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