KUWAIT: The compound housing workers for the new government LNG project in Zour.

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: A majority of the hundreds of Filipino workers at a government project in Zour want to go back home. They fear for their lives, as they allege a continuing increase of coronavirus cases in their camp daily. "There are now about 40 workers already COVID-19 positive (of various nationalities); there is one positive among us Filipinos. Just last week, a close friend of mine died of a heart attack, fearing for his life too.

We are all thinking what if the coronavirus reaches our building - we are doomed. And since this is a compound, maybe it's just a matter of time we will all be infected with the virus," a Filipino told Kuwait Times via Facebook Messenger. There has been no confirmation from the authorities on the number of infected workers at the camp.

"We tried to negotiate with the company to give us more protection. With due fairness, they are spraying the whole compound every morning, but we are not convinced. We are locked down since April 27. Initially, they told us to go back to work from May 3, but they extended the lockdown until May 10," the worker said, whose video about conditions at the camp made the rounds on social media over the weekend. He admitted to have been visited recently by doctors and nurses from the health ministry, and some of his coworkers who are allegedly coronavirus-positive have been taken out of the camp to the hospital.

"We are really concerned for our lives here. We want to live, we want to go back to our families; we want to work, but we do not want to die here. They need to take more necessary precautions so that we can be protected," he said. He added that the company is not properly observing social distancing, especially during lunch and dinner times. "Since we are in a camp, we are still eating together without observing social distancing - we have families and we all want to go back home safely, and we hope proper precautions will be observed for us here," he said.

The company being run by Koreans is in charge of the new government LNG project in Zour. There are about 2,000 Filipinos working in the project, mostly as pipefitters, welders, foremen and others. There are several thousands of other workers as well from various nationalities, mainly Indians, Nepalese and Chinese. Last week, a group of Indian workers reportedly staged a sit-in protest, urging the management to take stricter measures to protect workers.

"We do not want to die here, so we urge our company to take more measures so that we will be safe until our departure from the camp," the Filipino worker said. The viral video clip of the workers in Zour also caught the attention of the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait. "We have noted their complaints and are coordinating with authorities. We are closely monitoring their situation," said Philippine Embassy Charge d'Affaires Charleson Hermosura when asked about the workers. Kuwait Times also tried to reach the management of the Korean company, but to no avail.

A source from the camp said they were hired from the Philippines on a special working visa to help the government complete the new oil refinery project in Zour. Some of them have already completed their six-month and one year contracts. "Half of us Filipino workers, maybe around 1,000, have already completed our six-month contracts and have tickets to go back home. We want to go home, but there are others who still want to stay.

But since the lockdown, we have no choice - we have to wait until commercial flights resume. They don't want to spend extra money on new flights, because they said they already purchased our plane tickets, and if they buy new tickets, the airfare will be triple the price. We had regular tickets on Kuwait Airways," he explained.