03/10/2009, 00.00
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Dubai: massive projects wind down, immigrants return home

The economic crisis is affecting the construction industry most of all. In 2009, 45% of the workers in the sector will lose their jobs. The Dubai Economic Council is earmarking 10 billion euros to confront the crisis. Hundreds of cars have been abandoned at the Dubai airport by foreigners fleeing from debts after losing their jobs.

Dubai (AsiaNews/Agencies) - More than 50% of the construction projects in Dubai face delays, or even cancellation. Residential and commercial buildings expected to be completed between last year and 2012 are being hit by the global crisis. The Dubai Economic Council has announced funding of 50 billion dirham (more than 10 billion euros) to inject liquidity into the market, suffering from the flight of foreign capital. Although the country does not foresee a collapse like those being seen in other economies around the world, it is not expecting an easy 2009.

The first to pay the price are foreign workers, at every level. Those who lose their jobs automatically lose their visas as well, and have 30 days to find a new job, or leave the country. Debts and missed payments are punishable with imprisonment, and this is contributing to panic among the immigrant workers.

At the airports, it has become commonplace to see hundreds of cars abandoned in the parking lots, with keys still in the ignition and credit cards scattered on the seats. They are the cars of middle and high-level workers who have lost their jobs, and are fleeing the country to avoid legal problems.

The hundreds of blue-collar workers, especially the construction workers employed in massive construction projects, are in the same situation as the immigrants employed in offices and commercial activities. For them, who earn an average of 900 dirham a month (a little less than 200 euros), it is more difficult to return home, and many of them have nothing but poverty to look forward to there.

Every day, dozens of people leave the camps where the construction workers in Dubai live. It is estimated that in 2009, at least 45% of foreign workers in the industry will lose their jobs. Hayri Taban, assistant camp boss at the Bin Belaila Baytur labor camp, which hosts about 5,300 people, says that between 50 and 70 workers are returning home each day. "Many companies are closing their business, two out five projects have already been cancelled and we have already sent 1,300 laborers home since last month."

The Bin Belaila Baytur labor camp also hosts the personnel employed in the construction of the Burj Dubai and Silver towers, the two tallest skyscrapers in the world, a project valued at 122 million dollars. Many of the workers come from India, the country with the highest number of immigrants in the Emirates, where almost 50% of the population is made up of foreign workers.

With the closing of the construction sites and the persistence of the crisis, there are some who are predicting a bona fide exodus in the next few months. According to the newspaper The Hindu, the Indian embassy in the Emirates has reserved 20,000 seats on flights to India over the next month.

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