Slave Labor In Iraq

Photo from Christian Science Monitor

December 5, 2008

An estimated 1,000 foreign workers were hired by a Kawaiti subcontractor to the US military are living without water in a barracks in the abandoned Iraqi airport. The foreign workers from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh paid a recruitment fee of $2,000 with the promise of earning $600 to $800 a month. They reported that their passports were withheld.  They have received no pay. 

The story reads like a page from the CNMI recruiting scam playbook circa 1997. From the Christian Science Monitor:
Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor to KBR, the Texas firm formerly known as Halliburton, hired the men, who are from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. On Tuesday, they staged a march outside their compound to protest their living conditions.

"It's really dirty," a Sri Lankan man told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he still wants to work for Najlaa. "For all of us, there are about 12 toilets and about 10 bathrooms. The food, it's three half-liter (one pint) bottles of water a day. Bread, cheese, and jam for breakfast. Lunch is a small piece of meat, potato, and rice. Dinner is rice and dal, but it's not dal," he said, referring to the Indian lentil dish.

After McClatchy began asking questions about the men on Tuesday, the Kuwaiti contractor announced that it would return them to their home countries and pay them back salaries. Najlaa officials contended that they've cared for the men's basic needs while the company has tried to find them jobs in Iraq.
Conditions are worse for a group of around 50 men living in tents near the airport. They are believed to be victims of human trafficking.:

They live in huts they built with tarps and pieces of carpet, and said they had no access to food or water.

The property is under the control of the Iraq Civil Aviation Administration, which couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

These men apparently didn't arrive in Iraq with contracts promising them work, but instead had relied on agents who were supposed to place them in jobs. The men in the tent camp, who're from the same countries as those in the warehouse, said they paid close to $5,000 to the agents.

"We came to make a good salary and go home, but we're not lucky," said Ganesh Kumar Bhagat, 22, a Nepalese man who sleeps with four others in a tent along the main airport road.

He hasn't told his family that his plans did not succeed in Iraq, instead assuring them that he lives and works safely on an American base.
CNN reports that help may be on the way. United Nations workers have visited the men. You can express your outrage and ask for help for the workers by notifying the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights.

Watch the CNN video.