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In the Gulf, migrant workers bear the brunt of the pandemic

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One of the first photos associated with coronavirus in the Gulf featured a despondent South Asian employee of the Saudi oil giant, Aramco, forced to dress-up as a life-sized sanitiser dispenser. The photos drew fierce criticism online, forcing the company to apologise. But, long before the photos became public, the idea was conceptualised and approved, the cardboard cutout assembled to design, a worker selected for the task and ordered to walk the company's halls. Then, higher-income employees posed beside him and the photos were released without pause, revealing the degree to which the racialised marginalisation of low-income migrant workers in the Gulf is normalised.

The photos encapsulate the unequal impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the region's 30 million migrant workers, who make up anywhere between 80-90 percent (in Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain) to 60-70 percent (in Saudi Arabia, Oman) of labour markets. Those still at work risk their health to make other people's lives safer - as cleaners, domestic and healthcare workers; easier - as grocery store staff or delivery men; or richer - by still toiling on construction sites.

The dualities of the Gulf's social and economic systems are often oversimplified - rich nationals in the public sector, poor........

© Al Jazeera