Police in Abu Dhabi are ensuring labourers have the law on their side as they step up patrols to protect their health and rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
The force's special patrols unit, Al Mersad, is playing a crucial role in supporting workers who are at particular risk of contracting the virus.
As many labourers typically live in cramped accommodations and must gather in large groups to carry out their duties, police know only too well how important it is to deliver a safety message.
As well as stepping in when necessary to make sure they are being treated fairly by employers during turbulent economic times, officers hand out thousands of face masks, gloves and awareness brochures every day to guard them from potential infection.
“We are now distributing around 10,000 masks everyday across all camps,” said Capt Khalid Al Romaithi, an officer with Al Mersad.
“We also hand out up to 3,000 brochures. We give one to every group and we stick them on walls across the camps in case they lose their copy.”
Once they reach a labour site, the officers dress themselves in PPE (protective personal equipment) from head to toe.
Once inside, they ensure that all safety measures are in place.
“We tell the supervisors to put marks on the ground to keep distance between the people,” said Capt Al Romaithi.
“Some of these camps have supermarkets and pharmacies so we tell them to mark the floor.
“Also in the camps’ cafeterias we have enforced a capacity reduction; the capacity has to be less than 30 per cent at a given time.
“Everybody gets to eat but in an orderly manner. We told them to schedule timings for meals to keep people far from each other.”
The officers also play awareness videos and listen to their concerns.
“We negotiated with employers to let them leave early to make it home before lockdown and if they need to run any errands,” said Capt Al Romaithi.
Lockdown in industrial areas like Mussafah and Al Mafraq starts at 6pm, two hours ahead of the rest of the emirate.
“They [workers] ask us how long this will go on for, we tell them until this whole [Covid-19] thing is over,” said Captain Al Romaithi.
“And we want them to just be as safe as possible and healthy.
“Recently we have co-operated with health organisations to place medical tents to provide free screenings [for workers] as well as face masks and gloves.”
Earlier this month, two walk-in screening centres were placed in Mussafah, and have screened tens of thousands so far.
Arriving at the centre in Mussafah Bazar on Wednesday afternoon, police officers adjusted the space between those waiting in line while handing them safety equipment.
One of the officers also told them they must keep distance from each other and cover their faces even when a mask is not around.
“If you don’t have a mask, cover you face with a cloth,” said first warrant officer Nadir Al Awahdi to the workers in line.
Al Mersad teams said they would continue to visit the dozens of camps across the emirate every day until the pandemic has been overcome.
“We are on duty 24/7; whenever we are needed we are there,” said Captain Al Romaithi.
The special patrols unit was founded in 2016 to maintain security in industrial areas that lie in the outskirts of the emirate.
Crime rates have dropped and economic revenues have gone up since, said Capt Al Romaithi.
“We collect information about crime trends in these areas and we replace the illegal action with a legal solution.”
He gave the example of illegal street vendors who used to roam the streets of Mussafah to sell various goods, like household items, food and clothes.
“There used to be a random market in Mussafah on the street,” he said, “we created this bazar to replace it.”
In a massive market known as Mussafah Bazar which was founded in 2017, “anyone can get a permit and set up a table and sell whatever they want,” said Capt Al Romaithi.
“As a result the economic state of the area has improved, because all sales have been concentrated in one place so instead of people going to random vendors in the street they come here.
“They can find fruits, vegetables, clothes, everyday essentials; they sell better because it is a one-stop shop."