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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Report: S. Asian workers at U.S. base in Kuwait deprived of rights

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Asians are laboring under abusive conditions at a U.S. military base in Kuwait.

The National Labor Committee reported that nationals from Bangladesh were working 11 hours a day seven days a week at Camp Arifjan. The report said the Asian laborers, stripped of their passports, were cleaning tanks, rocket launchers and missiles, as well as office and living spaces, Middle East Newsline reported.

"It would be a horrible turn of events if Operation Desert Storm and all the sacrifices made by U.S. troops have in some way freed Kuwait to traffic in hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers, who are stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours, cheated of their wages, and then beaten and deported when they ask that their most basic rights be respected," NLC director Charles Kernaghan said.

The report, titled "Guest Workers Trafficked to Kuwait, Stripped of their Passports and Forced to Work Seven Days a Week at a U.S. Military Base, while Cheated of Half their Wages," said the Asian laborers were being paid $34.72 for working 70 hours, when they should have earned at least $63.

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"In just the first seven months of 2008, while working at the U.S. base, the guest workers were cheated of over $250,000 in wages," the report, released on Aug. 21, said. "The Kuwaiti companies working under contract with the U.S. military base also illegally withheld three months of the workers' wages."

The report said the workers have been housed in squalid dorms, with eight workers crowded into each small 10-by-10-foot room, sleeping on narrow, double-level bunk beds. NLC, which urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene, said supervisors threatened to beat the workers if they asked for their proper pay.

Kuwait has been battling rising labor unrest from Asian expatriates, who complained of being cheated of their wages. This was the first time that the U.S. military was reported to have been involved in the improprieties. The report said Kuwait hosts about 22,000 U.S. soldiers and advisers.

Camp Arifjan has hosted the repair, maintenance and overhaul of U.S. ground platforms. The report said on July 27, Asian and other foreign laborers held a strike in Camp Arifjan to protest poor conditions and withheld salaries.

"Workers from the U.S. military base who had not participated in the demonstration were attacked in their dorms by Kuwaiti police, who fired teargas and kicked and beat the workers with clubs," the report said. "The workers were imprisoned for five days, where they were again beaten, before being forcibly deported to Bangladesh without the $5,000 or more in back wages due them."

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