December 14th, 2009
03:31 AM GMT
MEERUT, India - Sajid, a tileworker from Andhra Pradesh, India, heard Dubai was a kind of paradise: A land of beautiful beaches, clean roads and plenty of high pay. So he did what many of his friends and fellow Indians had done. He paid an agent to fix him a job and went to Dubai.
Indians top the global list of migrant workers: more Indians leave their country to find work and send back money, called remittances, than citizens of any other country. The Indian Government estimates there are over five million Indian workers overseas, with 90 percent of them in the Gulf region. Most of them are considered temporary migrants.
If you travel through the south Indian state of Kerala, it is easy to spot the homes and stores built by remittances. Ask locals where the money comes from, and “Dubai money” is often the answer. Kerala has the greatest number of migrants to that Gulf nation.
Sajid and other locals estimate there were more than 35,000 others who came from their area, looking for a better future. They are from Meerut, a dusty north Indian city that sprawls into house plots being carved from former farmland.
In Dubai, Sajid says he lived in a camp with other workers, where water would run out. He says there was often no cooking gas, so he and his friends would borrow gas from other camps to make their meals. Life was difficult, he said, but for several years, it was fine. He was able to save money and sent it back to his parents, his brothers and sisters, his wife and five children.
About eight months ago, Sajid says, his boss came to him and his fellow workers and told them to work faster. “Do more in less time,” Sajid says he was told. Sajid didn’t know what was happening but started to realize something was wrong when he saw other workers being ‘sent back.’
Then his pay stopped for a month, and then two, until he was owed six months pay.
He and his fellow Muslim workers were told to go home for the festival of Eid and they’d get a lump sum on return. Sajid says they went, believing that they’d be happy to get their money in one chunk. But before he left, he was told to sign a paper in English. He couldn’t read it but says he thought it was a form for his leave.
While home for Eid, he got a call saying his visa was cancelled since he’d resigned. It was then Sajid understood he’d been tricked into signing a resignation form. Sajid has heard nothing since that phone call, and doubts he’ll get his money.
His father Shahabuddine has had to sell his land in Meerut to pay debts, including payments on the more than $2,000 that was owed to the agent that sent Sajid to Dubai.
Sajid has been trying to find local tilework – the only trade he knows – but says work in Meerut will only pay enough for him and his family to live from day to day.
In spite of his bad experience, Sajid says, he’d go back to Dubai if the work picked up. For Sajid, and millions of other Indians, a place like Dubai is still the best hope for a better future.
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