By MANDEEP SINGH Published: 30th January 2008

HUMAN rights activists have condemned Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi's "Asian tsunami" alert over rising numbers of expatriate workers in the Gulf.

They have dismissed as inhumane and irresponsible the widely reported remarks, made in an interview with the Ashraq Al-Awsat newspaper.

It quoted Dr Al Alawi as warning that because of the reliance by "lazy" Gulf Arabs on foreign labour to carry out even the simplest tasks, an "Asian tsunami" was in the offing which represented a danger "worse than the atomic bomb or an Israeli attack."

Dr Al Alawi said the 17 million foreign workers in the Gulf, mostly from the sub-continent, would reach 30m in 10 years from now.

"If the Gulf governments do not watch out for this tsunami of foreign labourers, the fate of this region is worrying," he said.

His remarks "violated all tenets of human rights and deserved to be condemned in the strongest possible terms", activists in Bahrain said yesterday. The condemnation came from the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS), the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and the outlawed Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).

BHRWS regional and international relations director Faisal Fulad said Dr Al Alawi appeared to have forgotten his time in the UK, where he spent many years working before he returned to Bahrain.

"No one ever told him that when he was working there. How can he say that now ?" said Mr Fulad. He said Dr Al Alawi had "violated all norms of civil society" by making such remarks.

"He has to realise that these are the people who are toiling so that Bahrain can have a bright future," said Mr Fulad.

"Asians are building the country's roads and buildings, they are the ones who are dying at construction sites and they are the ones who have left their families behind and are working in Bahrain."

"They deserve to be better treated."

Arabs are not lazy, but the region does need expatriate labour and should respect it, said BHRS vice-president Abdulla Al Durazi.

"The right to work is anyone's basic right and if one is accepted in Bahrain to work legally, whoever he may be, we should understand that the government wants him. He is not there just for fun," he said.

"It is our own inadequacies that are being exposed. We need the foreign workers because we cannot manage on our own. This is an irresponsible statement and exposes the minister's lack of understanding."

BCHR vice-president Nabeel Rajab accused Dr Al Alawi of using migrant workers as scapegoats for the government's economic failures.

"We condemn his comments as irresponsible since they suggest that migrant workers, who leave their families and homes behind to work and provide us essential services and build our countries, are a danger to the citizens here," said Mr Rajab.

"This kind of statement promotes racial hatred and puts the blame for the government's own failure to deal with unemployment on the shoulders of the most vulnerable community in our country."

"We call on him to retract this statement and hope that as a member of a government which sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council, he would demonstrate greater respect towards the dignity and rights of migrant workers to live and work among us in peace." mandeep@gdn.com.bh

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