LOAN sharks are storming the family homes of expats working in Bahrain and threatening to seize their property unless they pay outstanding debts, according to a social worker.
Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) chairman John Iype said this was one reason for an alarming rise in suicides among low-income foreign workers in Bahrain.
Thirty one expat suicides have been reported this year alone and the Indian Embassy said 25 of its citizens took their lives since the start of the year.
According to Mr Iype, many workers pay large amounts to move to Bahrain, often selling property to buy visas that allow them to work here. However, when they get here, they often find themselves working for salaries much lower than promised, and have to take loans to send money home to their families.
"For the families back home, everything is rosy as their son is working in the Gulf making good money," said Mr Iype. "But the reality is this son has sold his property in India and works for a lower salary than promised to him."
He revealed that illegal money lenders in Bahrain often resorted to intimidation when these expats, particularly from Kerala, were unable to repay the massive interest on loans. "We found out that these money lenders charge huge sums of interest from these workers," he said.
"If they cannot pay, there are gangs in Kerala who storm their houses and threaten to seize their property unless their money is paid." Social workers in Bahrain are now planning activities and campaigns in co-operation with Asian embassies to tackle the rising suicides among expatriates.
The latest victim was Indian Sujith Cyril, 25, who hanged himself from a ceiling fan at a labour camp in Tashan on Monday. The ICRF is now processing compensation for families of Indian workers who commit suicide.
"We have compensated some of the families as part of the free insurance scheme launched by the ICRF to help Indians earning less than BD150," said Mr Iype. Goodwill "This fund was set up through goodwill to help Indians.
Now we are giving compensation for suicide cases, provided the worker is eligible for it." ICRF members and representatives of different associations met last week at the Indian Embassy to discuss measures to tackle the rise in suicides.
At the end of the meeting it was agreed that an anonymous hotline would be set up for Indians facing problems. Decision was also taken to train volunteers in counselling and encouraging workers, who attend free medical camps, to share their problems with doctors. Among those at the meeting was Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) chairwoman Marietta Dias, who admitted that tackling rising suicides was indeed a "tough task".
"We are concerned about the rate of suicides this year and are working on a project to cover labour camps across the country," she said. MWPS volunteers will distribute leaflets with emergency numbers including those of counsellors. The campaign is likely to be launched by September. "The leaflets will contain messages in different languages so that all workers can relate to it and contact someone when they need help," added Ms Dias.
"The leaflets will be distributed by our volunteers at different camps, restaurants and cold stores as part of the awareness drive." She also revealed that cultural factors may prompt people to commit suicide.
"We always hear that non-payment of salaries is an issue which forces a worker to end his life," she said. "But there are other cultural factors that play a big role as some of them are under pressure to get married, cannot settle their debts and are facing other financial issues."
Meanwhile, sources told the GDN yesterday that the Indian Embassy in Adliya will host a meeting of community members tomorrow to discuss the need to train volunteers in providing counselling. firstname.lastname@example.org