Dubai Expo 2020 offers conflicting figures on worker deaths


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Expo 2020 Dubai presented conflicting figures on Saturday on the number of workers killed on site during the construction of the huge world fair, first five, then three later.

In a subsequent statement, Expo apologized and called the initial figure a “mistake”. Authorities have for months refused to publicly provide figures on construction-related casualties in the run-up to the $ 7 billion fairground rising from the desert outside Dubai, designed to boost the reputation of the city ​​abroad and attract millions of visitors.

The inconsistent statements arose at the event and the UAE as a whole has long been criticized by human rights activists for the mistreatment of poorly paid migrant workers from Africa, Asia and the Middle -East that make the economy of the country run.

When asked to provide a worker fatality count at a press conference on Saturday morning, Expo spokesman Sconaid McGeachin said without hesitation that “we have had five fatalities now,” adding: “you know, it’s obviously a tragedy that anyone would die.”

But just after 5 p.m. on Saturday and hours after an Associated Press report quoted McGeachin, the Expo released a statement that read: “Sadly, there have been three work-related fatalities (and) 72 injuries. serious to this day. ” Just after 7 pm, the Expo issued another statement apologizing for “the inaccuracy”.

Expo said its 200,000 workers who built the vast fairground from scratch worked more than 240 million hours. Authorities had previously failed to provide comprehensive statistics on worker deaths in the past year., injuries or coronavirus infections despite repeated requests from the AP and other journalists.

The admission comes after the European Parliament urged nations not to participate in the Expo, citing the UAE’s “inhumane practices against foreign workers” which it says have worsened during the pandemic. Ahead of the Expo, companies and construction firms “force workers to sign untranslated documents, confiscate their passports, expose them to extreme working hours in dangerous weather conditions and provide them with unsanitary housing.” , indicates last month’s resolution.

McGeachin also acknowledged that authorities were aware of cases involving contractors “withholding passports”, engaging in suspicious “recruiting practices” and violating workplace safety codes.

“We have taken steps to make sure these have been resolved and have been very involved in cases about it,” she said, without further details.

Workers in the UAE are not allowed to organize and have little protection, often working long hours for minimal pay and living in unsanitary conditions. Most foreign workers, hoping to earn more than they would at home, come to the UAE and other oil-rich Arab states through recruitment agencies, as part of ‘a sponsorship system that links their residency status to their jobs and gives their employers inordinate power.

The scorching heat of early autumn in Dubai proved dangerous even for those who visited the site on its opening day on Friday, with tourists passing out in humid weather at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

On the exhibition center on Saturday to mark France’s national holiday at the Expo, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a press conference that his government was “not part” of the European Parliament resolution calling for a boycott of the Dubai World Expo.

“Our relationship with the United Arab Emirates is strategic, it is very close,” said Le Drian, when asked about concerns about the abuse of work there. “If we have to say something to the UAE government, we do it behind closed doors. ”

No UAE official was present at the press conference.

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