07/01/2009, 00.00
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Half a million foreign workers in danger of expulsion

These workers represent 15 per cent of the population in a country where foreigners constitute 75 per cent of the total. The decision is the result of the global economic crisis which is causing unemployment and poverty. The emirate’s model of economic and social integrations is in danger.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kuwait is considering deporting about half a million foreign workers or 15 per cent of the country's population, namely those who are unemployed, who lack skills or are in the country illegally.

With just over three million residents, the emirate is believed to be home to more than 2.35 million foreign workers, or around three out of every four people in the country.

As a result of the world’s economic crisis the government is having to consider sending foreign workers home because of rising unemployment and poverty.

Foreign workers are also victims of human traffickers who promise them jobs for money.

Just weeks ago Kuwaiti security sources leaked the news that 100,000 foreign workers could face deportation after the disclosure that bogus companies brought them into the country under the pretence of giving them jobs that did not exist.

“Corruption is at the root of these problems,” Dr Shafeeq Ghabra, founding president at American University of Kuwait, said

Some  "individuals form companies whose sole purpose is bringing workers to Kuwait, not to provide the labour the country needs, but simply to make money off these workers,” he added.

When Kuwait’s economy was booming in the last decade, hundreds of thousands flocked to the country, the vast majority from Bangladesh, Philippines, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

To date, Kuwait has been seen by many in the Gulf and the Arab world as a model in its management of demographic change and absorption of immigrants. Now the global economic crisis has undermined the Kuwaiti model.

“Kuwait is a small country in which foreign expatriates make up the majority. That's neither healthy nor stable,” said Abdul-Ridha Aseeri, a professor of political science at Kuwait University.

But Kuwait is not alone in this predicament; Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is having problems with more than 50 per cent of its construction projects because of delays if not outright cancellation. And the first to pay 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.

With debts and missed payments punishable with imprisonment, many foreign workers are panicking.

Every day, dozens of people leave the camps where the construction workers in Dubai live.

It is estimated that this year at least 45 per cent of all foreign workers employed in the construction industry will lose their jobs.

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