Doha - Millions of migrant workers across the Gulf face uncertainty as host countries lock down, employers withhold wages or mull redundancies, and strict coronavirus containment measures lead to deportations and confinement.

“We’ve been in lockdown for the last eight to 10 days, we don’t know when it will end,” said a 27-year-old Pakistani engineer in Qatar beginning a second week under mandatory quarantine.

“The basic issue we are facing now is groceries. The government is providing us with food but only after some days -- and little things only.”

He is among tens of thousands of workers strictly confined to Doha’s Industrial Area after dozens in the blue-collar district tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty warn that cramped accommodation and inadequate sanitation endanger migrant workers across the Gulf, who may not have access to healthcare.

They also face salaries going unpaid and arbitrary dismissal or deportation -- an outcome that could spell disaster for families at home dependent on their income.

‘Already disadvantaged’

“Migrant workers in the Gulf are already disadvantaged (under) a labour governance system that gives employers excessive powers over migrant workers and drives their abuse and exploitation,” HRW’s Gulf researcher Hiba Zayadin said.

“Gulf countries should go above and beyond in introducing measures to prevent the spread of the virus in migrant accommodations and migrant detention centres.”

With the region so far reporting 3,200 cases of the disease, Amnesty said that workers “trapped in camps” are particularly vulnerable, enduring conditions that make social distancing impossible.

Foreign workers in the oil-rich Gulf region, predominantly from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, account for around 10 percent of all migrants worldwide.Many who spoke to AFP say they now fear for their health and job security.

Saudis receive

paid leave

Some labourers in Saudi Arabia, home to 10 million expat workers, complained that they were required by bosses to work while Saudis were permitted paid quarantine leave.