Monday, July 5, 2010

Poor Foreigners Working Like 'Modern Slaves'

Workers from Bangladesh (Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean, located 2400 kilometers (1491 miles) off the southeast coast of Africa) have helped Mauritius to achieve the economic success and world market share that the Indian Ocean island state boasts about. But many live and work in conditions described as akin to "modern slavery", apart from facing discrimination, the denial of labour rights and even violence.

The 32 year old Mohamed Amin left his wife and two children in low-income Bangladesh 23 months ago to look for greener pastures in the manufacturing industry in Mauritius.

He paid 150,000 takkas (about 2,200 dollars) to an agent in his country for a job as a machinist upon the promise of earning 20,000 Mauritian rupees (about 665 dollars) a month.

Often, such economic migrants take out bank loans and sell their family land and assets to secure a job in Mauritius with a view to sending money back home to improve the lot of their families -- and eventually their own.

"That (the promised 665 dollars) is big money in Bangladesh and I was prepared to make any sacrifice for it," Amin told IPS who visited him at Grand Gaube, in northern Mauritius, where he lives in a house provided by his employer, Firemount Textiles.

But, today, the Bangladeshi worker earns little more than a quarter of that amount. "I have been cheated," he said.

He is frustrated as, in about a year's time, he will have to leave the island. Amin is yet to save any money to take home. His meagre earnings allow him to cover his living expenses and to send a limited amount of money to his family every three months.

Poverty, unemployment and the high cost of living are the factors that force Amin and his compatriots to leave their country and look for jobs abroad.

They are not the only foreign migrants: the 5,834 Bangladeshis are among 30,000 foreigners working in Mauritius. As at mid-June 2010, there were 11,757 Indian; 6,704 Chinese; 1,696 Malagasy; and 268 Nepalese workers.

Of the 30,000, about 22,800 of them work in the manufacturing sector; 4,431 in the construction industry; 638 in the hospitality industry; 712 in community service; and 224 in transport and communications.

Expatriates work hard for long hours and are never absent. At times they are not paid -- either because the factories have run short of cash or because they have closed. Hundreds of them, especially Bangladeshis, who dared to demonstrate in public were sent back home in the past year.

In their dormitories at factories, the situation is worse as hygiene and sanitation are poor. Many of them sleep on pieces of sponge, pestered by fleas and other bugs. The rooms, the kitchens and the yards are dirty.

IPS visited one such place at Grand Gaube -- a one-storey concrete building with wooden partitions separating the rooms where about 50 Bangladeshi and Indian expatriates live.

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