7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

Don't blame workers for these tragedies

For the past 12 months Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) has been working with the Rotary Club Manama in the Mukharqa area of the capital installing smoke detectors in properties let to migrant workers. This project was prompted by the tragic deaths of 13 Bangladeshis in a fire in their accommodation in January last year and another, shortly before, which had caused the deaths of 10 men. We know installing smoke detectors is not a solution to the problem of thousands of workers living in appallingly unsafe conditions, but it is an attempt to keep them safer and a way of drawing attention to their plight.

At the time of last year's tragedy, our efforts to consult government entities appeared to have borne fruit. We were reassured that comprehensive measures to prevent further accidents would be taken, that the authorities would work together to tackle the problem. We were reassured that private landlords housing workers would be required to register the fact and that those properties would be inspected. We were reassured that demolitions were planned, that any violations would be reported and that penalties for violations would be imposed. In other words, we were reassured that this issue was being taken seriously and that things would improve.

Tragically, three more Bangladeshi workers died in their sleep from smoke inhalation in a recent blaze. Almost 70 men narrowly escaped from the burning building - barefoot in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

And, instead of reading comments blaming landlords for continuing to rent out their derelict properties to workers, we read again from the Labour Ministry that the workers themselves are to blame! We hear exactly the same excuses used before - that privately rented accommodation cannot be inspected, that only accommodation provided by companies and registered with the Labour Ministry can be inspected. And yet, at the same time, we read that only 3,000 company labour accommodation sites are officially registered with the ministry.

LMRA records 515,000 non-Bahrainis officially working in Bahrain currently. The majority are low income workers. 3,000 company accommodation sites cannot possibly house tens of thousands of workers. So where do all those not living in the registered company accommodation live? Add to these numbers the thousands of workers with invalid or 'free' visas and the scale of the problem becomes glaringly obvious.

This is a huge problem which is not being addressed with the seriousness or speed it deserves. Yes, the landlords responsible for the 2013 tragedies have been prosecuted and the landlord of the latest case was arrested, and, yes, a few properties have been demolished and a few violation notices served, but much more preventative action needs to taken - and fast. People's lives are at stake on a daily basis.

Leaving their homes to work in Bahrain for the sole purpose of sending money back to support their families and in the absence of alternative safe accommodation, what real choices do men earning BD100 and less per month have?

Beverley Hamadeh

MWPS general secretary

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