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South Asian Laborers Duped Again in Iraq

After 12 Nepalese laborers had been kidnapped and murdered by Iraqi terrorist group Ansar al-Sunna in 2004, there was hope that officials in Iraq, United States and in Nepal would take steps to ensure the safety and security of those traveling to Iraq in search of work. Unfortunately, reports suggest that laborers from South Asia, including Nepal are still being duped in Iraq.

CNN’s Michael Ware reported on December 4th that a Kuwaiti company-Najlaa Catering Services, which is subcontractor for American military contractor Kellog Brown and Root (KBR), has been housing about 1,000 workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka in a large warehouse in Baghdad. Some of the laborers are also from Africa. The windowless facility lacks running water and is severely overcrowded.

“But when they arrived in Baghdad, they said, Najlaa housed about 1,000 of them — 600 in the one-room warehouse — in the compound within the airport, surrounded by private security guards. Showers are there, but are useless because the taps are nonfunctional. Many have questions about their visas and status in Iraq. Legally unable to stay, they lack the money to return home.”

The predicament of these workers caught the attention of The Times (UK) blogger Deborah Haynes too, who says that along with the 1,000 in the warehouse, there are about 50 Nepalese “squatters” in Baghdad. They came to Iraq looking for work after paying agents hefty amounts, often taking out heavy loans.

“About 50 Nepalese men and a handful of Indians are living under the jumble of wooden planks and soiled carpets. Some of the shelters have scraps of tarpaulin over the top to keep out the rain but there is little protection from the winter chill. “We have no money, no food, no toilet, no water, no job,” said Ganesh Kumar Bhagat, 22.”

Noah Shachtman questions in his post in Wired Blog Network:

Anyone care to bet how much how much KBR was billing the U.S. military for these guys?

The story about these laborers is making rounds of international media, perhaps causing Nepalese officials some embarrassment. Three days after the reports by CNN and The Times, Nepalese Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia hired a lawyer and has threatened to sue Kuwaiti companies.

“Lawyer Ayed Al-Subai'e, the lawyer acting on the embassy's behalf, has threatened that the concerned companies will be sued in American courts if the embassy's demands over the workers’ conditions are not met within the two-week period.”

The Kuwaiti company-Najlaa Catering Services, accused of warehousing the laborers in poor condition in Baghdad, has however denied any mistreatment of the workers.

“Najlaa International Catering Services said the workers, from South Asia, were being well cared for at airport housing facilities while awaiting assignments at work sites. “They are living in a decent environment, provided three meals a day, showers and latrine facilities,” Marwan Rezk, the general manager of Najlaa International Catering Services, said of the laborers.”

Despite steps taken by the United States military to safeguard their interests, laborers from outside Iraq-like these South Asians- are still being brought into the country by agents promising good paying jobs, who often fall into wrong hands and get duped.

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