UAE | General

Hundreds of 'bachelors' crammed in squalid and dilapidated buildings

The rotten stench fills the back of your throat. Open mouthed your head is thrust forward in an involuntary retch.

  • By Charles Stratford, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 23:34 May 3, 2009
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Ravindranath/Gulf News
  • More than eight people live in a room in one of the oldest buildings in Abu Dhabi, located between Hamdan and Khalifa streets.
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Abu Dhabi: The rotten stench fills the back of your throat. Open mouthed your head is thrust forward in an involuntary retch. As you turn from the open door you glimpse a man squatting on the floor. He's searching for his shoes from a pile next to a rubbish bin in which a cat rummages. You can't go inside, the smell is too much.

Next door, 10 men lie on their backs in bunks. Some cover their eyes with heavy bent arms to block out the light that filters through cracks in the wall around the air conditioner.

Outside, a corridor lined by dozens of sandals leads to a kitchen, the wet walls of which are encrusted with fat accumulated through years of cooking on the four filthy gas rings.

Forty men use this space to prepare their meals. Forty men, euphemistically known in the UAE as "bachelors".

This squalid, dilapidated tower housing about 1,000 men is one of the many often dangerously under-maintained living spaces known here as "bachelor buildings".

The name seems to imply that this type of accommodation is actually only suitable for men who are not married. Used so flippantly it almost implies that some bachelors [of certain nationalities] don't really deserve anything better.

But hang on, most of the men living here are married.

Most of them have families they struggle to support in the sub-continent. Not one of them Gulf News spoke to said their families knew they lived like this.

All of them said they would never live in such conditions in their own countries. All of them agreed. "We have no choice," they said.

"We are very poor men. We have very little money. Where else can we afford to live, said "bachelor" Ali Ahmad who is married with four children in Bangladesh.

Ali earns around Dh1,000 a month as a carpenter but he hasn't seen any wages now in more than eight weeks. He doesn't know why he hasn't been paid.

He climbs out of his bunk in a room he shares with seven other men and lights a cigarette. Another younger man rolls over on his bunk and stares blankly at us as we speak.

"You should see the size of the rats that come at night near the bins," says Ali. "You have to come at night."

On the above floor, if you turn right at the giant blue bin that stands in front of the broken lift door, you may find Mohammad Ahmad. He shares a tiny room with five other men who each pay Dh850 a month as rent. He says if his family knew the way he lived they would probably ask him to return to Bangladesh.

"We've heard rumours about the building being renovated over the past year. But we have given up waiting. We're too afraid to complain because we have nowhere else to go. There's always someone who would fill your bed if you left. We are at least lucky to have a cheap place to sleep," he says.

According to Abu Dhabi Municipality, "Under four per cent" of residential buildings in Abu Dhabi are overcrowded, which means that the owners are breaking the law by allowing more than five people to sleep in one room.

Without giving details on time intervals for health and safety checks, Abdullah Ali, who works for the Undersecretary of the Municipality, Juma Mubarak Al Junaibi, says they "regularly" visit buildings, but the owners repeatedly ignore the law.

Blocked fire exits and a lack of fire-extinguishers are common observations. "The municipality is aware of these buildings and visits them on a regular basis. The owners are usually issued a warning and can expect heavy fines and even jail if they refuse to adhere to the law," he says.

Ali acknowledges that one reason for the overcrowding is because building owners let rooms out to individuals who, in a bid to maximise their sub-letting profits, cram as many beds in them as possible.

Without giving details, he said the municipality has been studying a plan to build new cheap accommodation for low-income workers in Mussafah, just outside Abu Dhabi.

Earlier this summer, the Ministry of Labour announced the completion of one and the building of two other cheap accommodation complexes for workers in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain Free Zones.

According to Ali, the accommodation plans being studied by the municipality could make cheap accommodation available to all low-income workers, no matter the location of their company.

"The plan is ongoing. We know the conditions these men live in and we are in the process of trying to rectify it," he said.

Sitting on the floor, finishing his mid-day meal in a room he shares with 10 other men from Bangla-desh, Abdullah pushes the pots and pans under his bed.

He stares at the TV screen on which a Bollywood film flickers.

"I think the conditions here are OK," he says. "And anyway I'm an expatriate with a very low salary. What can I do to improve this place?"

Gulf News repeatedly tried to contact owners of so called "bachelor buildings" in Abu Dhabi, but got no answer.

Gulf News
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