Kuwait fire tragedy: Building a mid-tier labour camp, shows victims’ profile

Mortal remains of 24 Keralites to arrive at Kochi airport at 8.30 am on June 14.
The building where a fire broke out in Mangaf on June 12.
The building where a fire broke out in Mangaf on June 12.(Photo | PTI)

KOCHI: The six-storey building in the Mangaf area, south of Kuwait City, which is now under the scanner after a fire killed 49 persons, including 42 from India, was home to migrant workers pursuing various jobs, from engineers and accountants to drivers and storekeepers, going by the profile of the victims.

The building where a fire broke out in Mangaf on June 12.
Kuwait Al-Mangaf blaze: Agony in Kerala as lives housed in labour camp reduced to ashes

Of the 24 deceased from Kerala, Stephin Abraham Sabu, 29, a native of Pampady, Kottayam, and Kelu Ponmaleri, 58, of Elambachi, Kasaragod, were engineers; 30-year-old Kollam native Umarudheen Shameer was a driver; while Ranjith K, 34, who hailed from Chengala, Kasaragod, worked as an accountant. “Labour camps in the Gulf evoke a typical image. The fact is that there are different types of labour camps — from tarpaulin/asbestos sheet-covered ones to those that provide good accommodation and other facilities,” says Divya Balan, assistant professor of international studies at Pune’s Flame University, who specialises in expatriate issues. Divya, who has visited and studied labour camps across the UAE, however, adds that most such facilities in the GCC are overcrowded.

The building where a fire broke out in Mangaf on June 12.
Kuwait fire tragedy: Survivors recount chilling tales

P P Narayanan, a former community welfare officer at the Indian embassy in Kuwait, pointed out that labour camps run by Kerala businessmen in the Gulf have better facilities. “Going by external appearance, the ill-fated building looks like a decent facility,” he said. The owner of the building will be answerable for the tragedy, said Narayanan, adding that in Kuwait, expatriates are not allowed to own buildings. The six-storey building in question has been rented by NBTC group, a construction company owned by Malayali businessman K G Abraham. Kuwait’s deputy prime minister Sheikh Fahad Al-Yousuf, who is also the minister of interior, was quoted in local media as saying that the fire was a “result of the greed of the company and building owners”.

“It needs to be probed if there were any violations of building rules,” Narayanan, who retired from the embassy in 2020, said.

Low-paid blue-collar workers do not usually have insurance, which makes them vulnerable to accidents. “Currently, there are no mandatory centralised provisions for insurance in most cases,” noted Divya.”Make sure that insurance is a precondition for migration, especially to GCC countries. One that covers all eventualities. The Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY) insurance scheme doesn’t cover natural deaths,” she said.

Narayanan, who was in charge of death and compensation for accident deaths in Kuwait while at the embassy, said fire victims can receive compensation ranging from Rs 20-40 lakh. “But, it can take up to two years,” he added.

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