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One for the money: The sour fruit of labour

Discussion in 'Social & Current Events' started by Devil Soul, Feb 3, 2014.

  1. Devil Soul

    Devil Soul ELITE MEMBER

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    One for the money: The sour fruit of labour
    By Sohail Khattak
    Published: February 3, 2014
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    Farman Khan. PHOTO: FILE

    KARACHI: Khanzada Swati repeatedly cautioned his son against leaving Pakistan, but the son would hear none of it. “I had no choice but to give in. I cannot describe the pain of bringing the body of my son which was lying in Dubai for seven days,” said a grief-filled Swati, 60.

    Last November, Swati’s 22-year-old son Farman Khan went to Dubai to earn a living. Though his family was not down and out, Farman chose to work far away from his home, according to Swati.

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    Farman is survived by his wife Ishrat, their six-month-old son Jibran and elderly parents in Pakistan. “He promised that he would keep in touch with us regularly and would start sending gifts after a few pay cheques,” the sad father continued. However Farman remained under severe stress once he reached Dubai. He failed to fulfill his promises because he died from a heart attack within a month of reaching there.

    It all started when Farman and his two friends bumped into a fraudulent agent. The agent told Farman that he could find work as an electrician’s helper at a company for which he would be paid 1,200 dirhams (AED) which is roughly equal to Rs34417.10. But upon reaching Dubai, Farman was told he could expect no more than 800 dirhams (Rs 22951.28) since he had a labour-specific visa.

    “Farman, along with other labourers, was provided a place to live [in a desert]. It was three hours away from their workplace in Sharjah,” Swati shared with The Express Tribune. A vehicle would pick the men up at 5 o’clock in the morning and take them to work. It was a nine-hour work shift. Their work was about carrying heavy loads of material to the top floors of a building that was under construction. They would get minimal sleep.

    “He wanted to come back to Pakistan straightaway but the people with whom he was working held his passport and documents,” said Swati. The two friends who accompanied Farman to Dubai are still trapped there and want to return to Pakistan.

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    Farman’s mother has been overcome with grief since the day she found about her son’s death. “My son is dead. Nothing can bring him back. But I want the government to stop agents from deceiving the youngsters,” said Swati. He is thankful to the Pakistanis residing in Sharjah who helped him in bringing his son’s body to Pakistan.

    Farman is one of the many Pakistanis who suffer and eventually even lose their lives away from home.

    According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis 5,873,539 Pakistanis have emigrated from 1981 to 2012, out of which a staggering 41,498 professional and technical workers left in 2012 alone.

    The top six destinations are Saudi Arabia, UAE, the US, Britain, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman) and EU countries, with Saudi Arabia topping the list because of the $4.105 billion Pakistanis sent back home from there between July 2012 and June 2013.

    Realities of the kingdom

    Shah Sarwar has been working in Saudi Arabia as a painter for the past two decades. He has experienced the toughest time of his life there. “We have no job opportunities in Pakistan. Living in Saudi Arabia is very hard.”

    Sarwar shares living space in an apartment with 29 other friends. The apartment has seven rooms. “All of my friends have problems with their kafeels (sponsors). Most of the kafeels withhold the passports of the labourers,” said Sarwar. The only way left [for such cases] is to be deported back home.

    A person has to pay an annual fee of 8,000 Saudi riyals (Rs 224,680.03) to the kafeels. Then comes the visa renewal part, for which a person has to pay SR10,000 (Rs 280,850.04) and another SR1,000 (Rs28,085) for taking leave. Adding to the expenditures, the Saudi government charges SR200 (Rs5,617).

    The sponsors do not permit a person to leave or work elsewhere and under the law, a person cannot work anywhere without a visa. “The kafeels say that since they have spent money on us, we have to pay them back,” shared Sarwar.

    According to Sarwar, the Pakistani agents have links with Arab agents. “We have to pay agents in both countries.” If a Pakistani dies, the family has to pay the agents to transport the body back home. “Labourers have private associations and we arrange money ourselves for sending the bodies back to Pakistan.”

    Over three million Pakistanis work abroad and 90 per cent of them are working as labourers in Gulf states. “After the textile industry’s contributions to the monetary reserves of Pakistan, the Pakistanis who work abroad and remit money back home are adding a big part to the foreign exchange reserves,” said Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation.

    “The Pakistani skilled labour has played a vital role in the beautification and development of these countries, yet they are seen with disrespect.”

    Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2014.