Bahrain poverty drives workers to suicide

This video is called Poverty in Bahrain on CNN.

From Al-Monitor:

Poverty, Poor Conditions Drive Gulf Migrant Workers to Suicide

29 September 2013

By: Abdelhadi Khalaf. Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).

Early this September, the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS), a Bahrain-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), announced that suicides among foreign workers were up to 60 people this year. This figure does not include failed suicide attempts or those categorized as traffic accidents or work-related injuries.

The MWPS’s spokeswoman said that the increasing number of suicides was mostly linked to poor financial conditions. A number of employers have dismissed foreign workers “as a result of the Bahrain events’ impact on the economic situation overall, not to mention other personal reasons that lead workers to commit suicide.”

Gulf phenomenon

The phenomenon of foreign workers committing suicide is not only limited to Bahrain. It is a notable phenomenon in all Gulf countries and the number of victims is on the rise. Not a day goes by in these countries without a suicide story being reported by media outlets.

Even though there are no official statistics and available figures do not include unregistered cases or cases registered under other categories, one cannot ignore this phenomenon, often overshadowed by the sparkle of the Gulf cities’ night lights.

Individuals who find themselves forced to commit suicide have different stories with different details. Therefore, the circumstances and factors leading them to commit suicide require serious studies. This, in turn, requires academic efforts from Gulf countries and labor exporting countries. However, this needs the approval of the responsible authorities in Gulf countries and their recognition of the seriousness of the matter, knowing that the victims are at the bottom of the social pyramid.

Irresponsible authorities

Gulf countries have changed tremendously during the four decades that followed the oil boom in the 1970s. The most striking features of this change are probably exemplified by two factors. The first is the enormous shift in growth along with the infrastructure development of the region’s countries. The second is the changing demography in all of the region’s countries, whose more than half of their populations are expats. These changes, however, along with their consequences, entail a price that is assumed by some migrant workers.

A suicide attempt is officially deemed a deviant behavior that violates applicable laws, not a cry for help from someone no longer able to escape the situation they are in. Security authorities consider those who fail to commit suicide as criminals and take them to detention centers. After a certain — short or long — detention period, those who have attempted suicide are tried. Courts usually sentence them to leave the country, pay a  fine or go to prison.

Naturally, those who end up in detention centers or prisons do not get the necessary care and therapy. This aggravates the reasons that originally pushed them to commit such desperate attempts. This is why a number of detainees repeat their attempts while in police custody. Media reports show that fear of such fate has recently prompted many to choose fail-proof suicidal means.

Complicit media

Media coverage contributes to the marginalization of both the suicide phenomenon and the reasons behind it. They say that the most important cause behind suicide is “weak religious morals.”

Reports issued by NGOs involved in monitoring the suffering of foreign workers have noted that the media fails to tackle the role of the squalid conditions most expats live in, pushing them to commit suicide.

Media outlets often rush to get scoops, using racist terms and focusing on “something wrong” in the victim’s personality. This approach to the phenomenon of suicide is tightly linked with the trend of “demonization” of foreign workers in the Gulf, a trend that pleases ruling authorities, as it overexposes the “dangers” of Asian labor on the traditions and culture of the Gulf countries.

The vicious cycle of poverty

When migrant workers decide to take their own life in one of the cities of the Gulf, their misery — which started the moment they decided to look for a job in the Gulf region — does not end there. The misery usually starts when these poor workers seek to make enough money to migrate to the Gulf. They need money to pay for the passport and required health certificates, including bribes to be paid to the staff of concerned agencies and commissions to be paid to the labor import agent to provide a work visa, not to mention the price of the ticket itself.

The amount of money that workers need to move from their country to the Gulf differs according to several conditions, making it difficult to generalize. Recent field studies indicate, however, that a worker from Bangladesh pays about $2,700 to move to the Gulf — that is, the average wage they would make in 15 to 18 months. If we add the expenses of their stay, we discover that these workers need more than two years to pay off their debt.

Immigration to the Gulf as a collective investment

Most immigrants come to the Gulf to escape poverty belts in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. In Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is less than $35 a month, and where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, workers need financial assistance to make the necessary money required to work in the Gulf.

Most migrants collect the sums by selling properties or borrowing from family and relatives, which turns the plan into a collective investment involving many family members. In many cases, migrants borrow from moneylenders with high interest rates.

When migrant workers reach Dubai, Doha or other cities, they usually carry with them their dreams and the dreams of their families and relatives. They think that they will quickly get themselves out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

However, many of them soon discover that the Gulf is not the gate to paradise. Some discover that the promised work was a hoax, and that they would have to push and shove and compete with thousands of other foreign workers, who are also looking for a job in every corner of the country.

Some of them discover that they would barely be getting half the amount agreed upon, prompting them to work overtime or look for another job in parallel. Some of them discover that their employer often tricks them when calculating their wages, delays paying them for months or even declares bankruptcy before paying.

The suicide of a metalsmith named Masubathi Maripan

Among those who have committed suicide in the past year is Masubathi Maripan, a worker who came to Bahrain from the Tamil Nadu province in southern India. His story shows hints of the vicious cycle of poverty that claims the lives of migrant workers in the Gulf. It is a cycle where pre- and post-migration factors are intertwined. Maripan worked as a metalsmith for a major construction company whose owner had commercial ties to the prime minister of Bahrain. The company breached its agreement with Maripan and his co-workers and lowered their monthly wage to 45 Bahraini dinars [about $120], instead of the agreed upon monthly wage of 100 dinars [about $265]. After several attempts involving the Indian Embassy and the Ministry of Labor, workers were not able to get their agreed upon wage. They decided to stop working. The construction company filed a lawsuit against the striking workers,and courts ruled in favor of the company. Workers were sentenced to compensate the company for suffered losses. The fines ranged from 400 to 600 dinars [$1,060-1,590]. According to protocol, a decision was issued preventing the workers from leaving the country before paying the fines.

Maripan, along with more than 100 of his Indian co-workers, found themselves unemployed and banned from working for any other employer without the consent of the construction company that was demanding they pay their fines. On top of that, they were barred from traveling without the consent of the company, which had only paid them half of the agreed upon wage from the outset. Maripan saw no way out other than suicide. He was only 33 years old.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

Bahraini women hold an anti-regime protest in the village of Jannusan, west of the capital Manama, on September 27, 2013

‘Bahrain’s iron fist’: 95 activists jailed for 808 years in total: here.

Bahrain: Unfair Judgments against Human Rights Activists and Dissidents Over Belonging to the “14 February Coalition”: here.

Bahrain court sentences 50 to prison in mass trial: report.

Bahrain: 50 Shi’a activists sentenced amid torture allegations: here. And here.

Bahrain: Unfair Judgments against Human Rights Activists and Dissidents Over Belonging to the “14 February Coalition”: here.

West’s damning silence over Bahrain: here.

Bahrain: Security Forces Detaining Children. Reports of Beatings, Torture Threats in Detention: here.

FIA presidential candidate David Ward has said that he would set up an investigation about the suitability of Bahrain to host a Grand Prix if he is elected: here.

20 thoughts on “Bahrain poverty drives workers to suicide

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  11. Councillors urge aid for 4,000 Bahraini homes

    Manama, 1 days ago

    Councillors plan to lobby the government to fund 4,000 Bahraini families, who cannot afford to renovate their dilapidated homes.

    They want to reintroduce the His Majesty King Hamad Scheme for Dilapidated Homes, which was turned into a loan-based system under the Housing Ministry in 2012, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

    They fear thousands of families are living in danger as their homes could collapse any time.

    All 40 members of the country’s five municipal councils will attend a joint meeting on February 6 for the first time in their 12-year history to discuss the issue.

    The scheme was originally a grant under the Royal Charity Organisation and was overseen by the Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Ministry for 10 years.

    Around 4,000 homes have already been rebuilt and the last batch of houses will soon be distributed at a ceremony.

    Muharraq Municipal Council chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed said suspending the original grant was unfair to other families who live in rundown structures.

    “Those 4,000 families are ineligible for the loans from the Housing Ministry because they are aged above 50 and are mostly pensioners. In other cases they don’t have jobs and can’t afford to pay loan instalments,” he said.

    “It is unfair to build homes for 4,000 families for free and then stop when other homes need to be torn down and rebuilt.

    “The scheme should be ongoing and should not stop because what’s not dangerous today will be dangerous in the next few years.”

    Al Mahmeed said outcomes of the meeting will be sent to His Majesty for immediate action.

    “We don’t want the government to rebuild the 4,000 homes all at once, we want directives from the King with orders to come up with a plan to clear the current waiting lists,” he added.

    “The current 4,000 homes may increase by 500 or 1,000 in two years, so the issue has to be addressed quickly if we are to successfully ensure nothing is pending.”

    The meeting was scheduled for January 7, but was postponed over disagreements on the agenda.

    Two council chairmen had also rejected the inclusion of a decision to scrap the Joint Municipal Fund, which collects revenue from Bahrain’s five municipalities, and turns it into individual funds for each body. – TradeArabia News Service


  12. Customers blow fuse over power in Bahrain

    Manama, 4 hours, 14 minutes ago

    Government employees have allegedly been threatened with weapons and attacked after being sent to cut the power supply of people with outstanding bills.

    A senior Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) official said that electricity substations had also been vandalised by angry customers during an extraordinary meeting of the Muharraq Municipal Council on February 9, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

    In some cases the police had to be called to accompany emergency teams to cut electricity connections, said EWA central stores director Shaikh Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa.

    “We send private electricity contractors with our officials to remove fuses, and seconds before we do that, we negotiate with homeowners or landlords to settle payments, most respond, but others turn violent,” he told councillors.

    “Those refusing to pay threaten our officials with weapons, attack them and shout insults.

    “In one case an official feared for his life after a substation door was broken and someone tried physically to stop him from cutting electricity.”

    Shaikh Ibrahim said cutting the electricity supply was a last resort, but action had to be taken and the EWA had managed to recover BD14 million ($37.1 million) in current and outstanding bills from just the Muharraq Governorate.

    “There are 167 families still left with outstanding bills in Muharraq ranging between BD5,000 and BD12,000. Most have expressed their willingness to pay, but others are refusing and we can’t give them more time,” he said.

    “In a case during the weekend, a Saudi national having a Bahraini mother, living in Muharraq, refused to pay, despite me personally trying to negotiate with him and he went online saying that it will affect relations between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but that didn’t stop us from cutting the electricity on him.”

    Shaikh Khalid said the council could present the EWA with a list of people who cannot afford to pay and a deal would be made.

    “We have a separate list for those officially registered with the Social Development Ministry and we are not speaking about them, but others who are not listed as needy.”

    Councillors yesterday voted to stop the EWA from cutting electricity of people unless they were informed about what steps had been taken beforehand.

    Council chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed urged the EWA not to target needy families.

    “We are not against collecting payments, but there are genuine humanitarian cases that need consideration, and the EWA has to inform us a month before it takes a decision to cut power so we can resolve the issue from our side,” he said. – TradeArabia News Service


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