Oman charity drive for expat workers aims for 10,000 meals a day

Many labourers are not being paid because the coronavirus lockdown has stopped all work

This picture taken on November 29, 2018 shows a view of the city of Nizwa from the walls of the 17th-century fortification of the same name, about 160 kilometres southwest of the capital Muscat. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)
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A charity drive in Oman has brought together volunteers and companies to deliver free meals to the country's expatriate blue collar workers during Ramadan.
They have pledged to distribute 10,000 meals a day to the workers during the Islamic holy month. Construction workers are not being paid during the Covid-19 lockdown period, leaving many struggling to feed themselves.
Those involved include the volunteer charity organisation Dar Al Atta'a, the local WJ Towell business group, government-owned Oman Post and the Carrefour and Lulu supermarket chains.
Volunteers collect the food packages from supermarkets and deliver them to the workers' living quarters on construction sites and in labour camps across the country.
"We work in co-ordination with all government departments concerned to ensure that distribution covers a large area of the country," said Dr Shamsa Al Harthi, director general of Dar Al Atta'a.

"We express our thanks and appreciation to all who contributed and donated to mitigate the impacts of this pandemic.”

The food packages contain rice, flour, cooking oil, chicken, tea and milk. The recipients are mostly workers from the Indian subcontinent, including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The government has ordered that Omanis must be paid and has offered companies loan facilities to help offset their losses, but not specifically to pay expatriate workers.
"With all construction work stopped, the labourers have no income at all. They just knock the doors of the neighbourhoods where their labour camps are and ask for food. We are happy to be part of this charity to deliver food on a daily basis for the rest of Ramadan," said Hafidh Khamis, 23, one of the volunteers in Muscat.

Muneer Shakeel, a Bangladeshi bricklayer working in Muscat, said he was grateful for the assistance. He and his fellow workers have not been paid for six weeks.

"Normally, we get paid and buy our own food. But we are told we cannot get paid until the Covid-19 situation is over. That's why we are all grateful to charity groups," Mr Shakeel said.
But the presence of labour camps in residential areas is a concern for some. The Ministry of Health's statistics show that 60 per cent of deaths and infected people in Oman are expatriates, mainly low income workers.

"I guess it is not their fault but the fact that they are all crammed up in rooms, it is not doing any good to the Covid-19 problem. We are worried because some of these labour camps are on our streets," said Aisha Al Sulaimani, 33, a resident of the Maabela area of Muscat.
All expatriates are being tested and treated for free if they are found to be infected with the coronavirus, on the orders of the health ministry.

The ministry on Sunday reported 93 new cases of Covid-19 in Oman, 33 of them among Omanis. The total number of infected people is now 1,998. Ten people have died, including six expatriates.