Far From Home: Guest Workers of the Gulf

Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen explores the world of guest workers in the Arab Gulf oil states

Jonas Bendiksen

Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home With the world's tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa in the background, Pakistani workers clean up a finished construction site on a road bridge in the Business Bay area. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 2 (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home At the Ritz Carlton 5-star luxury hotel in Jumeirah, Alex from Ghana is the "Pool Ambassador". At midday he serves juices around the pool, dressed in a smoking jacket and tophat. He has been in Dub (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Always trying to break new luxury records, Dubai municipality has acquired a fleet of luxury sports cars as patrol vehicles. Here, the fleet commander waits for Bangladeshi guest workers to finish (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Tired South Asian workers on the company bus that takes them back from the construction site to their lodgings at a labor camp outside the city. Workers often go to work at dawn, only to return aft (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home On a Friday, the only day off, Bangladeshi workers shave and groom themselves in the communal washrooms in Sonapur labor camp. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 2012. © Jonas Bendiksen | Magnum Photos
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home A dozen Indian migrant workers share this room, sleeping on the floor without mattresses to save space and costs. Living conditions in apartments rented by guest workers and company labor camps are (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home On Fridays, the one day off in the week, south Asian laborers play cricket outside their lodgings, on whatever open space they can find. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 2012. © Jonas Bendiksen | Magnum Photos
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Bangladeshi street cleaner by Jumeirah beach, with Russian tourists in the background. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 2012. © Jonas Bendiksen | Magnum Photos
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Nepali guest workers gather in whatever green space they can find in the evenings on Fridays, like this traffic circle. Doha, Qatar. 2012. © Jonas Bendiksen | Magnum Photos
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home With single men far outnumbering women in Dubai, the city is a regional hub for sex trafficking and prostitution catering to every social level. Here local Emirati men visit "The Russian Club", whe (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home South Asian laborers gather at a Western Union to send money back home after pay day. The successful workers are able to send $50-$150 home each month, but many find that they are not able to make (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home A crowded classroom where young women train to take care of children in the Gulf states. In a 3-week course, they learn skills like bedmaking, table setting, cleaning, shoe polishing and baby care. (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Karen Tanedo, on only her third visit home to the Philippines in the last 7 years, put her kids to bed during her last evening before returning alone to Dubai. Beside the month Karen was home to gi (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Maids from the Phillipines wake up in a dormitory just days after arriving in one of the many recruitment agencies that places them among local families. Now they are about to be taken from their a (...)
Jonas Bendiksen | Far From Home Life for a housemaid can be very lonely for the young foreign girls who work with local families. Often living alone or inside the family compound, they often face big language and cultural barrier (...)

While marketing themselves as luxury playgrounds of tourism and business, close to 90% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal, and the workers often endure very difficult employment and living conditions. Many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries to get to the Middle East but then struggle to pay the debt to gain any profits. Often parents will leave their homes and children for a decade or more to try to build up savings for their family back home, putting a significant strain on family relations.

The World Bank estimates that the yearly sum of global remittances (the money being sent home by foreign guest workers) amounts to more than double all official foreign aid globally.

Foreign guest workers, therefore, have a formidable economic impact, but often at a high personal cost.

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