Asian men, including Sri Lankans, who have been living in warehouses near the Baghdad airport while awaiting promised jobs with a military subcontractor in Iraq are in line to be sent home, and they’re still not sure how they’ll be paid for their time in Iraq. Tensions have simmered throughout the week at a compound where about 1,000 men from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka spoke out against their treatment by Najlaa International
Catering Services, the Kuwaiti company that hired them for work in Iraq.
Jobs didn’t materialize for the men, who have spent one to three months living in three pale blue warehouses packed with bunk beds along an airport side road.
Najlaa officials broke up a protest outside the warehouses Tuesday by pledging to pay the men. Marwan Rizk, the company’s chief executive, told McClatchy Newspapers that it will repatriate the workers and give them salaries for their time in the country.
Most of the men don’t want to return to their countries yet. They have paid middlemen about $2,000 to link them up with work and get them to Iraq. Many will owe on loans they took out to pay those fees.
About 400 were taken in buses to the airport on Wednesday to board planes for Dubai, a hub for flights in and out of Iraq. Flights weren’t available, and the men were returned to the warehouses.
Manoj Kodithuwakku, 28, of Sri Lanka said that about 160 were asked to get on buses again Thursday night, but they were holding out for stronger guarantees that Najlaa would pay them.
Najlaa is a subcontractor to KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary that provides a range of services for the U.S. military in Iraq. Rizk told McClatchy this week that the company encountered unspecified obstacles to its contracts in Iraq that delayed the jobs it expected to give the men. He said Najlaa took care of the men’s basic health and safety needs.
Daily Miror 12/7