Human rights activists have called on the government to ensure fairness and transparency in the process for naturalizing foreigners. The appeal was made following reports that some 10,000 Asians had been naturalized by the government for political reasons. However, Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, claimed that the allegations were “unfounded," saying Bahrain’s naturalization process was apolitical in nature. The minister explained that only 4,971 Asians had been granted Bahraini citizenship over the past 56 years.
Bahraini authorities have deported over 5,500 unauthorized residents in the first six months of this year, including a large number of women who had been arrested for prostitution. The police have been cracking down on prostitutes plying their trade in Adliya and Hoora. Most of the foreign prostitutes allegedly entered Bahrain on tourist visas. Authorities are also going after hotels and service apartments that knowingly harbor prostitutes and other unauthorized residents.
Only 180 of the close to 350 employees who survived the fire at their Gudaibiya labor camp on 30 July reported for work on 6 September. The fire killed 16 Indian workers. The Royal Tower Construction (RTC) Company gave the workers up to 15 September to report for work, otherwise, they would allegedly be reported as runways and face arrest. The workers had earlier stopped working because of the company’s failure to pay them on time. A spokesman for the company claimed that it had started paying the dues of the 180 workers who reported for work while the rest would be paid when they return to their jobs.
Meanwhile, two Indian workers, Velmurugan Kumuraswamy and Ravi Muthuswamy, who survived the fire, had been repatriated. The RTC Company had paid for the two workers’ tickets to Mumbai but refused to pay the remainder of the fare from Mumbai to their hometown in Chennai. Company officials also refused to pay the workers’ full dues for July and August. The two had earlier been accused of instigating a strike against the company.
More than 500 Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshis striking construction workers from the Habib Ali Awachi Company have agreed to return to work on 14 September after being promised a wage increase of BD10. The workers signed an agreement with the company specifying the wage increase. They had gone on strike on 12 September to protest the unhygienic and overcrowded conditions of their living quarters.
Seven South Asian construction workers, including five Indians, one Pakistani and one Bangladeshi, were injured on 12 September when the wall they were working on collapsed. The workers were taken to the Salmaniya Medical Complex for treatment of the injuries they sustained in the accident.
Thirty-year old Indian domestic worker, Lateefa Beewi Maheen was brought to the Salmaniya Medical Complex after vomiting blood several times a day. Ms Maheen suffered severe internal injuries from beatings she allegedly received from her Bahraini sponsor and his family at his Musharraq home. Ms Maheen was placed under the care of the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) after her discharge from the hospital. Meanwhile, the hospital staff passed the hat around and raised BD25 for her. The Al Fahad Manpower Agency is providing Ms Maheen’s return ticket to India. It has also managed to collect BD60 from her sponsor representing her salary for 45 days.
Another domestic worker, Indira Yenked Subbiah, 35, was taken to the Indian embassy on 6 September by a Bangladeshi couple who found her crying on the street. She had allegedly run away from the Isa Town home of her sponsor who, she claimed, beat her up, half-starved her and refused to pay her wages for the past three months. She said she feared for her life after her sponsor threatened that she would only get her overdue salary after she died. Volunteers from the MWPS later collected her from the embassy to take her to the society’s shelter. Meanwhile, embassy officials have set a meeting with the domestic worker’s sponsor at the Isa Town Police Station.
The Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) was first established in 1999 to help repatriate the remains of Indian workers or give them a proper burial. Since then, the ICRF has had to expand its range of support services from medical camps to legal assistance. However, such expansion entails more money. Hence it plans to organize a major fund-raising event next year to raise BD100,000. With the ICRF being more financially secure, it can implement new activities, such as the setting up of a 24-hour hotline for Indian workers in distress.
Indian Embassy blacklists 49 rogue companies
The Indian embassy in Bahrain has blacklisted 49 rogue companies for allegedly mistreating migrant workers. Among those blacklisted were firms that forced workers into cramped or unhygienic accommodations, failed to pay their wages on time, abused them physically or failed to provide safety measures at worksites.
Indian worker Mustafa Kelam Valappil, 29, claimed that his sponsor had assaulted and threatened him for not paying the BD900 needed to renew his residence permit. He said that he had also paid the sponsor BD850 when his residence permit first expired two years ago. Mr. Valappil alleged that he has been paying his sponsor BD25 monthly for almost four years to work at odd jobs after the sponsor’s restaurant in Tubli closed down. When the embassy summoned the man’s sponsor he denied all allegations against him but agreed to provide the worker’s return ticket.
The alarming number of Bangladeshis who were injured or who died from workplace accidents in the past few months has prompted Bangladesh Ambassador Mohammed Ruhul Amin to initiate measures to protect the workers. In the first six months of the year, 17 Bangladeshi workers died as a result of workplace accidents while currently 10 workers are confined at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, eight of them being treated for workplace injuries. The embassy has intensified its legal aid program and is actively engaged in negotiating for the payment of adequate compensation to Bangladeshi workers who died in road or workplace accidents.
Sri Lankan domestic worker Parleswary Arumugam, 35, accused two staff members of a local manpower agency of allegedly assaulting her after she refused to work for more than one home at a time. The agency has previously sent her to three different employers and each time she was made to work from daybreak to dawn to cater to the needs of more than one family. She is presently under the care of the MWPS after volunteers spotted her crying on the street near the Sacred Heart Church in Manama. Ms Arumugam wants to return home but so far her agency has not responded to the MWPS’ request for a return ticket.
Labor relations director Shaikh Ali bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa said that the Philippine government’s proposal to raise the current minimum wage of Filipina domestic workers in the Gulf from $200 (BD75) to $400 (BD151) has no legal standing in Bahrain. He made the statement during a closed-door meeting with officials from the Bangladesh, Indian, Indonesian, Pakistani, Philippine and Thai embassies at the Labor Ministry on 14 September. On a separate occasion, Philippine Embassy labor attaché Alejandro Santos explained that his government has come up with the proposal given that foreign domestic workers in the region had the lowest salaries compared to their counterparts in Europe and other Asian countries, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, who are earning between $500 (BD189) and $1,500 (BD567). In addition, domestic workers in the Middle East reportedly face the highest risk of abuse. Meanwhile, several embassies in Bahrain have expressed support for the Philippine government’s proposal and are now monitoring developments on the issue with a view of introducing similar policies in the future.
Philippine Embassy labor attaché Alejandro Santos urged Filipino workers who were brought to Bahrain on tourist visas by their employers to verify their residential status with their sponsors. He made the call as part of efforts to curb the practice of direct hiring that often lead to exploitation of Filipinos workers. Santos explained that Filipino workers are required by law to undergo processing through proper channels – this includes recruitment by accredited manpower agencies and having their contracts verified at the embassy.
Three Filipinas recruited by the Royal Falcon Manpower Agency claimed to have been duped by their Philippine-based recruiters. Two of the workers, Ronalyn Villamayor and Sylvia Diano, had allegedly accepted a job offer to work as waitresses at the Golden Tulip Hotel with a monthly salary of $300. However, upon their arrival in Bahrain they were reportedly forced to sign a contract to work at the Safari Hotel for only BD75. They also accused the agency’s owner of sexually harassing them. Meanwhile, the third Filipina, Imelda Labial Cutanao, claimed that she was recruited to work as a hospital nurse but the agency in Bahrain made her sign a contract to work as a domestic worker for BD120.
Filipino barber returns home after 21 years
Filipino worker Teofilo Galupe, the 71-year old former barber, has finally left Bahrain on 5 September to return to the Philippines. Galupe has not seen his family for 21 years and was able to return home with the help of various donors, including the Ecumenical Conference of Charity and other companies and individuals who chose to remain anonymous. The Filipinas International Cargo Services in Gudaibiya has also promised to send Galupe’s personal belongings to the Philippines for free. Galupe had earlier sought the assistance of the Philippine embassy in returning home. He is reportedly the longest staying irregular migrant worker assisted by the embassy.
Sources: Meera Ravi, “Embassy reaching out to Bangladeshis," Bahrain Tribune, 1 September 2006; Mandeep Singh, “Hospital rescues maid after threats," Gulf Daily News, 1 September 2006; “A ray of hope for destitute workers," Gulf Daily News, 2 September 2006; Mandeep Singh, “‘Abused’ maid out of hospital," Gulf Daily News, 3 September 2006; Habib Toumi, “4,971 Asians ‘given Bahrain nationality in 56 years’," Gulf News, 3 September 2006; Geoffrey Bew, “Indian Embassy blacklists firms," Gulf Daily News, 4 September 2006; “The Indian embassy in Bahrain has blacklisted 49 firms, for allegedly cheating workers," India Daily, 4 September 2006; “Sponsor threat worker agrees to return home," Gulf Daily News, 4 September 2006; Eunice del Rosario, “More pay hopes," Gulf Daily News, 5 September 2006; Kanwal Tariq Hameed, “Transparency drive urged," Gulf Daily News, 5 September 2006; Soman Baby, “Vice girls deported in new crackdown," Gulf Daily News, 6 September 2006; Eunice del Rosario, “Barber goes home to family after 21 years," Gulf Daily News, 6 September 2006; Soman Baby, “Wage woes for maids," Gulf Daily News, 7 September 2006; Begena George, “‘Rescued maid claims abuse," Gulf Daily News, 7 September 2006; Begena George, “‘Runaways’ threat to blaze workers," Gulf Daily News, 7 September 2006; IANS, “Gulf firm issues ultimatum to striking Indians," Hindustan Times, 7 September 2006; Mandeep Singh, “Flight out of misery," Gulf Daily News, 8 September 2006; PTI, “Bahrain fire survivors return home," The Times of India 9 September 2006; “Indian workers of Bahrain firm return home empty handed," India e-News, 9 September 2006; Geoffrey Bew, “Embassies backing maids’ wage rise," Gulf Daily News, 10 September 2006; Mandeep Singh, “Assault claim by housemaid," Gulf Daily News, 12 September 2006; Bonny Mascarenhas, “Wall collapse in Juffair," Bahrain Tribune, 13 September 2006; “Helping hand for abused maid," Gulf Daily News, 13 September 2006; “Rogue agency strikes again," Bahrain Tribune, 13 September 2006; Eunice del Rosario, “Filipinos urged to question employers over their status," Gulf Daily News, 15 September 2006; Eunice del Rosario, “Workers’ woes highlighted," Gulf Daily News, 15 September 2006; Begena George, “Wage deal for workers," Gulf Daily News, 15 September 2006