KUWAIT BANGLADESH EMBASSY
Gustavo Ferrari  /  AP
Officials of the Bangladesh Embassy in Kuwait City walk among the documents scattered when more than 700 Bangladeshi laborers employed in Kuwaiti attacked the building Sunday.
updated 4/25/2005 5:09:12 PM ET 2005-04-25T21:09:12

A riot by 700 workers from Bangladesh has thrown new focus on what human rights groups call the slave-like conditions many Asian workers endure across the affluent Persian Gulf, including salaries of just dollars a day or no wages at all.

After the rioters stormed their country’s embassy Sunday, ripping chandeliers from the ceiling and smashing tables and chairs, Bangladesh’s ambassador expressed sympathy for their plight.

Ambassador Nazrul Islam Khan said complaints of delayed payments are one of the major issues his diplomats must deal with. He described the rioters as “poor people” and said he was sure “they were suffering.”

The Bangladeshi workers, most of them cleaners, stormed the embassy apparently after months without being paid by their Kuwaiti employer. Two visiting Bangladeshi citizens were slightly injured, Khan said.

Hundreds of thousands of unskilled Asian laborers in the oil-rich gulf take low-paying jobs local residents won’t do and are often left at the mercy of employers in what can be slave-like conditions.

Signs of organization
The ambassador said the protest must have been organized because the workers arrived in about 10 buses and overpowered embassy guards. Some fled when police arrived, and others were arrested.

He identified their employer as Nibraj Cleaning Co. However, no company of that name was listed, and officials from a company with a similar name could not be reached for comment.

The workers earn no more than $102 a month for cleaning streets and offices.

Some 200,000 Bangladeshis work in Kuwait.

Ahmed Bishara, a member of the Kuwaiti Society for Human Rights, described their situation as a “human disaster.” He said there should be a minimum wage and a way to ensure the workers get paid every month.

Systematic abuse, discrimination
Last July, a harsh report by Human Rights Watch charged that Asian workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly maids, endured systematic abuse and discrimination. Although the kingdom dismissed the report as exaggerated, officials acknowledged there were abuses against expatriate laborers and vowed to crack down.

In the United Arab Emirates, disgruntled construction workers have demonstrated in the streets several times in the last two years — a rarity in the largely apolitical nation — demanding unpaid wages.

In addition, hundreds of maids from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines escape to their embassies in gulf nations every year complaining of mistreatment.

Employers have been convicted of torturing and murdering housemaids.

Some companies delay payments out of sheer greed while others are subcontractors who do not pay their workers until they themselves are paid, Bishara said.

When an Associated Press reporter entered the Bangladesh Embassy in the al-Surra suburb of Kuwait City shortly after the police intervened, the workers had either fled or been arrested by police who were called by the embassy. The entrance and the wall-to-wall carpeting on the two floors were littered with broken glass.

Chairs and tables had been smashed, official papers scattered across the floor and framed tourism posters yanked off the walls.

The Interior Ministry spokesman told the official Kuwait News Agency that a number of people accused of instigating the riot were in custody.

“These people are really helpless,” rights activist Bishara said, and the society is “insensitive” about their situation.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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