It could be a symbol of desert dreams, it may not be realised for some, or it can be nightmares.
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Desert dreams: Moving for the best
The freezing of many projects due to the economic tsunami in the once-thriving desert city of Dubai has made many expats jobless, which in turn has led them to consider relocating to other Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia. However, the country’s economy minister has reassured that the debt crisis will not have a “huge reflection” on Dubai.
“Realizing that there are fewer job opportunities or even no opportunities for expatriates in Dubai, I applied for jobs in other GCC countries prior to my work contract coming to end in Dubai. Luckily, I succeeded in finding a suitable job in Jeddah after six months of job-hunting,” said Rashid Rizvie, an Indian site engineer, who has ten years of work experience in a construction company in Dubai.
“Renewal of a work contract in Dubai is nearly impossible due to the lack of new projects, which is a result of the economic crisis. Hence, a gradual exodus of foreign workers is taking place there,” he said.
According to the AFP tally, Dubai has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and faces serious debt troubles. By the end of 2007, the UAE was estimated to have 5.5 million foreigners – comprising most of its population of 6.4 million. Ahead of last year’s economic crisis when Dubai was racing to build grand business districts and huge shopping centers, the Ministry of Labor registered over three million workers.
However, with the current grim situation, expatriates - particularly from the developing and under-developed countries - who once enjoyed the strength of UAE’s currency are now faced with grave concerns on the job front.
Muhammad Muneer, a Pakistani construction worker who was able to find a job in Jeddah after his work contract was terminated in Dubai recently, said a lot of his friends in Dubai have not been paid for months now.
“Being breadwinners of their families, they were remitting large amounts of money back home. Despite being unpaid, they wanted to stay back until they got a suitable opportunity in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Muscat,” said Muneer.
Even the state-owned holding company, Dubai World, which is seeking to restructure about $22 billion of debt, said that it wants to halt payments on its huge debts for at least six months, as reported by AFP. Property prices were down by half and office rents by as much as two-thirds.
“People want job security. The economic situation has ramifications as far as their salaries and bonuses are concerned. Because of this uncertainty many are taking serious steps and are relocating,” said Muneer.
Recently, media reported that three members of an Indian family in Dubai committed suicide due to financial troubles in a pact initiated by a fourth who survived his suicide attempt. The man told the police his rope slipped off the fan, saving his life, while the other three died.
S.R. Rudy, an American who recently joined a private organization in Al-Khobar, worked as a contractor in a Dubai-based company, which was also hit by the credit crunch. “I managed to find a new job in Saudi Arabia through my Facebook contacts. Although I earn less now, I prefer working here because in a recession it may not be easy to earn big bucks in the US either,” said Rudy, citing unemployment rates in the US that have hit new highs with the country losing 25,000 jobs every day, as reported by The Scotsman.
Joe and Merry, a Filipino couple, have recently shifted to Jeddah. Earlier, they were working in a Dubai-based medical complex that was owned by a big organization.
“Foreign workers in the UAE often face major challenges when they return home as the change in lifestyle can be agonizing. We left our jobs to advantage of better opportunities in the Kingdom since there is no longer job security in the UAE,” said Joe.
“Our decision to relocate to the Kingdom was strengthened after reading the statement of the Saudi deputy labor minister, in which he said the recruitment of foreigners to work in the private sector and for Saudi individuals will continue here.
The sectors in which Saudis are not interested to do certain jobs or are not skilled enough for certain work can present good opportunities for foreign workers,” he said. “Despite the global financial crisis, Saudi Arabia is better place than other countries as its economy is booming with many new opportunities and projects here,” Joe said.
There are nearly seven million foreign workers in the Kingdom. Merry said that her friends living in Saudi Arabia told her that if one is hardworking, straight-forward and peaceful, “then Saudi Arabia is a good place to be”. – SG