UAE’s migrant workers fret over future in coronavirus economy; that is according to my reading, perhaps about their own future in the Gulf region, particularly in the UAE during and above all after the passing of the pandemic. It must be reminded that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched its Mars mission dubbed “Al Amal”, or “Hope”, on July 20, 2020.
In the meantime, here is the original Reuters article that covers this traumatic period in the life of those numerous migrant workers in the UAE.
DUBAI (Reuters) – When Kapil left his Nepali village for an airport job packing cargo in the United Arab Emirates, he thought he was securing a future for himself and his family.
But less than a year after arriving in the Middle East trade and tourism hub, he questions whether it was the right decision after learning there would be no work this month.
“I’m totally hopeless,” said 29-year-old Kapil, whose wife and five-year-old son are in Nepal.
The coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on the economies of the oil-rich Gulf, heavily reliant on low-paid foreign workers.
They are the backbone of the Gulf economies, taking jobs in construction, services and transport, and are now facing the realities of the pandemic.
Reuters spoke to over 30 workers like Kapil in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, who all said they are now enduring hardship due to coronavirus.
Many have racked up debt and would go hungry without the help of charities as they wait for work and to be paid.
Some said they found little reason to stay without work and wanted to return to their home countries despite being owed months of wages; hundreds of thousands have already left.
The treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf has come under greater scrutiny, with human rights groups saying conditions have deteriorated because of the pandemic.
In the UAE, most attractive because of the economic opportunities it offers, there is no social safety net for foreigners, who make up about 90% of the population.
A laundry service worker from Cameroon told Reuters he had not been paid in months and was now selling fruit and vegetables on the street earning 30 to 40 dirhams a day ($8-$11).
The UAE government communication office did not respond to emailed questions about migrant worker welfare.
In May, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the Gulf state was committed to protecting the rights of all workers, state news agency WAM reported.
Those in blue collar jobs are the most vulnerable. They are paid low wages, work long hours and often live in cramped dormitories that have been coronavirus hotbeds.
Many also pay fees to recruiters in their home country, a practice common for low paying jobs in the Gulf.
Kapil, who said he paid a recruiter 175,000 Nepali rupees ($1,450) for his UAE job, is not sure when he will work again.
His employer told staff they would only be paid when they worked and it was unclear whether there would be any work next month, he said.
Kapil said he had been earning around $600 a month – six times more than his teacher salary in Nepal – working up to 12 hours a day, six days a week at the airport.
He said not working had left him stressed and unable to provide for his wife, child and elderly parents in Nepal.
Kapil, who showed his employment contract and other documents to Reuters, asked that his full name not be published and his employer not identified over fears he could face repercussions.
Arriving in the UAE last October, Kapil thought he would work at the airport for a few years before finding a better job, possibly using his teaching skills.Slideshow (4 Images)
Now he just hopes to work until the end of the year to pay back his loans.
“The global economy is getting worse and it’s affecting each and every business … I think during this time it’s hard to find any other job.”
No official statistics of how many people have left the UAE are available. But at least 200,000 workers, mostly from India but also from Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal, have left, according to their diplomatic missions.
Sectors like construction and retail were struggling even before the crisis, which exacerbated hardship for workers already exposed to payment delays.
Mohammed Mubarak has not been paid for around 11 months for security work at a Dubai theme park.
“The company doesn’t know when they’ll be able to pay us, and we are suffering,” the Ghanaian said.
Government coronavirus restrictions that forced many businesses to shutter for weeks began to ease in May. Shopping centres, water parks, bars and restaurants – all staffed by migrant workers – are once again open, raising hopes.
Zulfiqar, a Pakistani in Dubai for 12 years, sent his family home early in the outbreak but stayed on hoping for work, sharing a room and what cash he has with a dozen other unemployed men.
Not that long ago, people like Abdullah, a young Syrian man who was forced by the ongoing war to drop out of university, would have found it nearly impossible to safely earn a living. But through Edraak, an Arabic platform for open online education launched by the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan, he gained graphic design and digital marketing skills. Now, he earns a decent living as a freelance remote worker in Jordan.
Amid the dual economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices, digital platforms are becoming even more critical to the region’s economy. With schools being closed since March and 4 in 5 workers affected by business closures globally, per International Labor Organization estimates, the shut-down of public life has revved up the need to move to digital, virtual, and remote learning solutions to build skills and ensure opportunities for people to earn a living.
Yet this emergency need is not being met. Moreover, MENA is missing real-time opportunities for digital development. Digital transformation can lead to rapid, sustained growth, but only if countries invest in digital infrastructure and human capital.
The key to success in this changing landscape is a digital skills revolution. While definitions and typologies differ, ‘digital skills’ generally refers to students, workers and people of all ages having and applying competencies, knowledge and attitudes to learn, earn and thrive in digital societies.
Digital skills most commonly comprise a continuum of basic, intermediate or advanced skills; and, as we will discuss in our next blog on competencies, they may alsorefer to a range of different abilities, many of which are not only ‘skills’ per se, but a combination of behaviors, expertise, know-how, work habits, character traits, dispositions and critical understandings.
As laid out by the International Telecommunication Union, Basic Skills are the general ICT skills required “broadly for all workers, consumers and citizens in a digital society” — such as word processing or researching online. Building on that foundation, Intermediate Skills are “effectively job-ready skills needed to perform more complicated work-related functions” such as social media marketing or e-commerce. Advanced or ‘Specialist’ Skills, which “form the basis of specialist occupations and professions,” are necessary to test, analyze, manage, or create digitally based products or services. These advance skills are needed to harness technology to resolve complex problems, guide others such as policymakers, contribute to professional practices, and propose new innovative ideas to advance economic development.
Skills are the supply side of digital labor markets; jobs are the demand side. Digital or ICT work can be conceived in three terms: enhanced, dependent, intensive. Some jobs are enhanced by digital tools, whereas with others — such as Internet freelancing or call centers — technology is fundamental to the work. Digitally intensive work — such as machine learning or app development — requires more specialist and advanced skills.
While data is sparse and likely not as up-to-date as the pace of change, we have learned important baseline details about the digital skills match — or mismatch — in MENA’s digital labor market. There is a shortage of digital human capital in MENA, marked by skills and information gaps. For example, in its 2017Future of Work study, McKinsey found that across the region, only 1.7% of the workforce is ‘digital talent.’ In their last 2017 skills survey of the region, Bayt/YouGov, a leading jobs website in MENA, revealed that IT jobs are among the top open positions, evidence of an acute talent and skills shortage in the region.
The Gulf countries are arguably the most advanced in terms of digital transformation. Yet, GCC countries still have a significant digital skills gap. In a 2020 survey by PwC of CEOs in the Middle East, 70% said the availability of key digital skills is a business threat, and an earlier 2017 study found that only one of the 10 skills most commonly cited by digital professionals in the GCC matches the fastest-growing skills found globally on LinkedIn. Furthermore, none of the top 10 available skills in the GCC is a technical or specific digital skill.
In this blog series, MENA Digital Directions, we will analyze and compare digital skills competence frameworks, discuss how to build digital skills across the educational pipeline, explore the role of the private sector and identify digital opportunities for women, youth and refugees. With a thorough understanding of the digital landscape and the right investments in digital infrastructure and skills, countries can ensure that more young people like Abdullah have a chance for a brighter, more connected future.
Space is rapidly becoming a new domain for Middle Eastern states to project their power and vie for leadership in the region. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a case in point, with a mission to Mars to be launched this week. A national countdown to July 15 is meant to excite Emiratis and Arabs in general, for it marks the first time an Arab state launches a mission into outer space.
The Emirati government has named its Mars Mission Hope Probe, coloring it with a pan-Arab sentiment. The mission invokes past Arab Islamic achievements in the sciences and incites Arabs to maintain that spirit. There is no shortage of nationalist fervor, either. The UAE has timed the completion of its mission before the 50th anniversary of the federation’s founding in December 2021. It has also tied it to its 100-year goal of establishing a human colony on Mars by 2117.
The UAE has been marketing this science-driven apolitical Arab narrative of hope, but its space policy is more than that. It aims to reinforce its newfound regional power status and align the Middle East’s geopolitical order to its advantage. It has also, by default, ushered in a regional space race, something relatively novel in the Middle East. The UAE’s ability to complete its Mars Mission, and how this factors into its activist foreign policy, will determine the degree to which the UAE transforms itself and the region in the process.
Though the Israeli space program is the oldest in the region, it has not been a priority for Israel. That is not the case with Dubai, which founded the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in 2006. The center was expanded by the federal government in 2014 with the creation of the UAE Space Agency. Knowing that it does not have the expertise, the UAE partnered with three U.S. academic institutions to jointly design and build its mission to Mars. The Emiratis assembled a team to support their effort, with an average age of below 35, a third of whom are women, headed by a young female minister tasked with advancing science. These steps reflected the UAE’s branding of itself as a champion of youth and women, while marketing this enterprise as an international collaboration that included manufacturing in the United States and a launch from Japan.
Other than Israel, Iran has also been active regionally in space. Its international collaboration has not been as intense as the UAE’s. Yet Iran has been producing satellites since establishing the Iran Space Agency in 2004, making it the second space state in the region. It has also sent animals into space, and launched a military satellite last April. Tehran’s early collaboration with Russia and China paid off with its first locally built satellite in 2009, which it named Omid, or Hope, the same name the Emiratis chose for their Mars mission.
The UAE is not the first Arab state to show an interest in space. Saudi Arabia led a pan-Arab effort in 1976 to establish the satellite operator Arabsat. The Saudis also produced the first Arab astronaut, Prince Sultan bin Salman. His participation in a mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985 was to be followed by a Saudi space policy, but this was put on hold after the crash of the Challenger.
By venturing into this domain, the UAE wants to position itself in a field long occupied by regional adversaries such as Israel and Iran. Emirati thinking is focused on differentiating the UAE from others and advancing its own agenda despite challenges. The UAE has much to gain if its mission to Mars succeeds—a feat only accomplished by the United States, the former Soviet Union, India, and the European Space Agency. Space is the Emiratis’ next convenient card to raise their country’s standing. Doing this would allow the UAE to bolster its post-2011 rise as a middle power in a region whose traditional centers—Egypt, Iraq, and Syria—have waned. This would grant the UAE an increasing say on thorny regional issues, such as peace with Israel, a nuclear deal with Iran, the Yemen conflict, and the dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The UAE’s actions in space have not gone unnoticed in the region. Saudi Arabia and Turkey created space agencies days apart in December 2018. Egypt joined the club soon thereafter in August 2019. Not wanting to allow this moment of regional attention to space to go to waste, the UAE established the first pan-Arab Space Coordination Group in 2019. It brought together eleven Arab states whose first goal is to develop “813,” a satellite to monitor earth named after the year in which the famed Arab House of Knowledge reached its peak upon Al-Ma’mun’s ascension to the caliphate. However, paying homage to Arab history did not mean the UAE would avoid standing out. It left for itself the more high-profile feat of a Mars exploration mission, while leaving the less ambitious goal of building a satellite to the Arab conglomerate.
Arabs and their neighbors have historically set their sights on the sea and land for sustenance. Now, space offers a new arena for potential development, competition, and conflict. For the UAE, its ability to shape regional geopolitics to its advantage is filled with hazards, especially with its risky foreign interventions. If successful, its space program can offset some of these risks and provide a chance for a UAE-centric worldview to prevail in an ever-changing Middle East.More on:
I love Qatar tells us about how and why Qatar National Library (QNL) hosts discussion on illegal trafficking of manuscripts across MENA region.
Qatar National Library brought together experts from the Arab region to discuss the fight against the illegal trafficking and smuggling of manuscripts heritage items across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Qatar National Library is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center for Arab countries in the Middle East, the opening speech at the event was given by Dr. Hamda Al-Sulaiti, Secretary General of the Qatari National Committee for Education, Culture and Science.
Director of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Preservation and Conservation Center (PAC) Regional Center at Qatar National Library, Stephane Ipert, said “Documentary heritage is particularly at risk for trafficking, as its less likely to be protected by national legislation than other artefacts, and is easier to move illegally.
“For several years, trafficking and smuggling of heritage items from libraries and archives have been rising. In the MENA region in particular, this phenomenon is greater due to the number of nations suffering from conflict, upheaval and impoverishment.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia Dr. Rajaa Ben Salamah said “Libraries play such important roles in the preservation and restoration of documentary heritage and forgotten treasure. We can help by building a network and raising awareness of the pricelessness and cultural value of artifacts, and making them available to all through digitalization and publishing, as well as preserving the originals.”
General Director of the National Library of Tunisia, and Dr. Alsharqi Dahmali Member of the Advisory Council of the International Council of Museums in Morocco also participated in the event. The event was moderated by Maxim Nasra, Coordinator of IFLA PAC Regional Center at the Library.
As a PAC Regional Center, Qatar National Library aims to create a professional network of collaborative assistance to exchange knowledge and share successful experiences toward the preservation of documentary heritage throughout the region.
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world. As such, developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade. As per the AMEinfo published on 3 July 2020, this interesting essay is worth reading, especially since it might affect the MENA region countries.
Developing countries could lose out as automation competes with low-cost labour
WTO: Future of global value chains depends on China’s industrial strategy and the global adoption of 4IR technologies
UNIDO: Developing countries must bolster local capabilities with new technologies and skills to become more integrated into global value chains
mPedigree: African SMEs enter global value chains as virtual technologies lower business costs
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world; multinational corporations are already considering repatriating some manufacturing production as a result of the unprecedented disruption the pandemic has caused to global value chains; developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade.
Xiaozhun Yi, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), highlighted that more than a third of the predicted decline in world trade brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a rise in trade costs and temporary disruptions to transport and logistics.
He stressed that the future structure of global supply chains depends on whether the pandemic accelerates two key trends that have been underway for several years. These include China moving up the value chain due to its industrial strategies or rising labour costs, and the increasing adoption of labour-saving technologies in modern manufacturing. “We believe that this pandemic may accelerate the trend of production automation and we know that this trend may reduce some opportunities in low skilled manufacturing,” Yi said.
However, he added that governments of developing countries can still attract multinational companies by introducing measures to limit trade costs, such as lifting tariffs and minimising travel restrictions and border controls.
Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Special Advisor, Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), agreed that automation erodes the comparative advantage that low-cost labour gives developing countries over developed countries and this could lead to production being brought closer to the headquarters of transnational corporations that are at the head of global value chains. In response to this shift, developing countries should accelerate efforts towards more regional integration, allowing them to expand markets and trade more with their neighbours, said Ugaz Estrada.
However, Bright Simons, Founder and President of Africa-based technology company mPedigree, said COVID-19 has affected regional trade in Africa as much as global trade and that in some cases regional trade is more impacted. He cited a number of barriers to expanding regional trade within the continent, including high transportation costs, which can make it more expensive to trade within Africa than to trade internationally. “It’s not that easy, even if you wanted to, to maintain a sourcing regime that involves cutting yourself off from global value chains,” he said.
Simons added that the capacity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa to export had been constrained for many years by stringent standards requirements and supplier certification programmes in developed countries, particularly in Europe. However, he added that technologies are now emerging that can streamline these processes and reduce the cost for all businesses.
“What virtual capabilities now enable is to reduce the cost of skills importation, so we have had situations where certification bodies are now able to conduct end-to-end audits online,” he said. “That cuts costs by as much as 95% and this for the first time makes it possible for some SMEs to meet these demands and be able to export overseas.”
Under the theme – Glocalisation:Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Global Value Chains, the third edition of the internationally recognised Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit will virtually, for the very first time, bring together high-profile thought-leaders and business pioneers from around the world to shape the future of manufacturing, discuss the impact of pandemics on global value chains, and highlight the role of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies in restoring economic and social activities. At the top of the #GMIS2020 virtual edition agenda will be the topic of digital restoration – how 4IR technologies are helping to restore the global economy and overcome unprecedented challenges.
Dnyanesh Kamat, Political analyst inColumns on Black Lives Matter across the MENA region states that From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region. Here it is :
Black Lives Matter: Racism in the Middle East and North Africa — and how to combat it
29 June 2020
While much of the Western world remains convulsed with Black Lives Matter protests, the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region should use this moment to address its own anti-Black racism problem. From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region.
In the Mena region, it is mostly the consequence of centuries of slavery, with Black Africans enslaved and sold in slave markets across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Indeed, in some parts of the Gulf, slavery was abolished only as recently as the 1970s. This is also why racial insults hurled at Black people in these countries often refer to them as “slaves” or “servants.”
This racist mindset also leads to widespread systemic discrimination against Black people throughout the region. Basra in southern Iraq is home to the majority of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Black population. Black Iraqis have long complained of systemic racism, with limited access to housing, education, healthcare and all but the most menial jobs.
While Black communities in some Mena countries grapple with the legacy of slavery, others still face modern-day slavery or conditions akin to it. Mauritania is one of the last countries on the planet where slavery continues to this day. The Global Slavery Index of 2018 estimates there are approximately 90,000 Black Mauritanians, or roughly 2.4 per cent of the population, bound to a caste system that is a form of modern-day slavery, with their enslavement inherited from ancestors and passed down to their children. Slavery was abolished in 1981 but it was not until 2007 that it was made a crime, and that too in response to international pressure, with successive governments failing to eradicate the scourge.
A similar caste-like Black community exists at the margins of society in Yemen. They call themselves the Muhamasheen (“the marginalized”), but other Yemenis refer to them pejoratively as the Akhdam (“the servants”). Many survive by begging. Needless to say, this community has borne the brunt of Yemen’s ongoing civil war.
While countries like Mauritania and Yemen grapple with centuries-old practices, others have seen slavery rear its ugly head in modern times. Black Africans have long used Libya’s long Mediterranean coast as a staging post from which to attempt to reach Europe. Several migrants have been enslaved and tortured by Libyan militias, and subsequently sold in open-air slave markets.
Popular culture in the Mena region is also rife with anti-Black racism, from caricatures of Black people used for comedy to erasing them completely from depictions of national culture. The national media in countries like Tunisia portray the country’s citizens as light-skinned. It might come as a shock that 15 per cent of Tunisians are black.
Iran has a sizeable Black population living along the country’s southern coast. Their contribution to the culture of that region – whether in terms of cuisine, spirituality or to the unique bandari music – is immense. But Iranian popular culture would have us believe the country is populated only by fair-skinned Persians. This comes largely from the “Aryan myth” of Iranian nationalism. Depictions of Black people are limited to stereotypes or pale-skinned people in “blackface” – theatrical make-up used to portray racist caricatures of Black people. Indeed, early Iranian theatre often featured a type of comedy performance known as Siah Baazi, a term meaning “playing black.”
In the Arab world, more recently, several Arabic-language networks have come in for criticism for their racist depiction of Black people in hidden camera-practical joke reality television shows.
Almost a year ago, protesters marched through cities in Israel calling for an end to anti-Black police brutality and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education. One of the most horrifying examples of anti-Black racism in Israel occurred in 2016 when the government admitted to having given Ethiopian-Israeli women long-term contraceptives without their consent. The community’s birth rate has halved over the past decade.
Perhaps the most egregious form of institutionalized racism in the Mena region is the kafala system of hiring migrant workers in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, which has been described as a modern-day form of slavery. The kafala system, which is not covered by regular labour laws in Lebanon, gives employers total control over the legal residency of “their” workers. Every so often, horrific kafala-related stories emerge of migrant workers, most of them African, being made to work long hours without pay, tortured, sexually abused and even murdered, with little or no recourse to the law for help. Racism also pervades the tourism and hospitality sector in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, with African and South Asian tourists complaining of being denied entry to trendy bars and clubs.
If there is to be any impetus for change in the Mena region, it is likely to come from civil society. For example, recent protests against Lebanon’s corrupt political class were led by the youth of the country and included calls to abolish kafala. In 2018, Tunisia became the first Mena country to pass a wide-ranging anti-racism law.
But much more needs to be done. Mena countries need to rethink their concept of nationalism, redefine the meaning of citizenship and re-negotiate the social contract between citizen and state. If there is to be any hope of dismantling racism and every vestige of slavery in the region, those are fundamental imperatives. Let the Black Lives Matter movement be the catalyst.
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