Kuwait has detained thousands of undocumented foreign labours including about 5000 Bangladeshis, who were previously given amnesty by the government, in desert detention camps.
As the country imposed a lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Gulf state last month promised undocumented workers that they would be allowed re-entry if they volunteered for repatriation, reports Middle East Eye.
Some 23,500 migrant workers are said to have identified themselves to the authorities and are currently detained in four detention camps on the outskirts of Kuwait City as they wait to be repatriated. They are predominantly from Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Sudan.
They have been living in the middle of a desert under the heat and within unsanitary facilities for over a month now.They are in fear of spreading the coronavirus rapidly in this packed and arid compounds.
Conditions inside the camps and frustrations over repatriation delays have led to protests taking place inside the detention facilities. Local security forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the detainees to break up the protests, and Egypt has hurried its efforts to take back its nationals.
Condition of Bangladeshi workers
The Bangladesh government has promised to take back 600 citizens within a week but there are around 5,000 Bangladeshis stranded at this moment.
These workers have been detained in detention camps in Abdallia, Khoslar, Mangaf and Sebde, according to aid workers from BRAC.
From some images inside the camps Middle East Eye found that, the inmates are living in squalid camp conditions where detainees are unable to practice social distancing and are forced to live in cramped conditions.Detainees are unable to maintain personal hygiene as toilets are overflowing with sewage.
Inmates also said, though the immigration police delivered food to the camps, they refused to enter the tents and clean the toilets.
Shariful, a Bangladeshi migrant stranded in the Sebde camp said, "Detainees were denied clean washing facilities and primary healthcare, and prevented from leaving the compound.
He said at least four inmates had died across the four camps during his time in detention, and the causes are unclear.
"We have in some rooms at least 50 to 200 people living together, sharing only a handful of toilets, said Shafiul, who refused to give his surname for security reasons.
"We are told to stay a few metres away from each other, but we are stuck here and packed in like a can of sardines."
"In a normal situation when someone suffers from a cough or cold, it is because of working in the sun for too long. But now everyone thinks it could be something else because of the coronavirus. At least four inmates had died across the four camps during his time in detention, and the causes are unclear." he added.
According to Shafiul, who has been detained for over a month, only Egyptians have been repatriated so far.
"Other people like the Indians and the Bangladeshis have been stuck here.No communication. Nothing,"he said.
Protests over repatriation delays
Last week, deaths inside the camps prompted dozens of detained workers to hold protests against the Kuwaiti authorities inside the Sebde detention camp.
Videos posted online showed workers chanting "we want our embassy" at police, as security forces fired tear gas and sound grenades.
Some workers also built barricades inside their accommodation to protect themselves from the Kuwaiti police, according to Reuters.
As noted in a recent report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, migrant workers in the Gulf were already living in "unsanitary" and "tightly packed labour camps".
The NGO said these conditions provided the "perfect conditions for the spread of Covid-19".
Plea to return home
The pace of repatriations has been a sore point for detainees, with a group of Bangladeshi workers in the Sebde camp releasing a video calling on Bangladesh to return them from Kuwait.
The video showed a dozen workers describing their poor living conditions and complaining about the lack of food given to them.
One worker featured in the video said that they had all voluntarily handed themselves to the authorities in the hope of being sent back to Bangladesh by 30 April. But no one from the Bangladeshi embassy had been in contact with them.
But the ambassador from Bangladesh to Kuwait S M AbulKalam told Arab News that the government is anticipating to repatriate at least 600 migrants every week.
Several Gulf states, including Kuwait, have put pressure on Bangladesh to bring back undocumented workers.
Bangladesh, however, has been hesitant in taking back undocumented workers from other countries due to fears of further Covid-19 infections.
India, meanwhile, said it planned to send ships and fleets of planes to repatriate citizens stranded in Kuwait.
The plan, however, drew criticism after the Indian government said stranded workers had to pay for their journeys and would be placed in a two-week mandatory quarantine upon arrival to India.
Migrant labourers have faced hostility and suspicion from Kuwaitis, too.
Earlier this month, prominent Kuwaiti actor Hayat al-Fahad, called on Kuwait to kick all migrant workers out of the country and "throw them into the desert".
Meanwhile, Kuwait has recorded 11,975 coronavirus cases and 88 deaths going further into lockdown since March and has only recently begun to ease its restrictions.