Wandering through the streets of Hawally, one can easily get distracted by the neon signs of shops, cafes and offices. But these bright lights are mere facades that hide unpleasant sights. The area is situated just seven kilometers from Kuwait City and has more than 164,212 inhabitants, most of whom live in dilapidated houses and rickety buildings, paying KD 80 to 120 for a room in an apartment that is often shared by more than four persons.
The problem is that these buildings are on the verge of collapse. Bad electrical connections and gas cylinders in poorly-structured kitchens are dangerous for occupants, but people are afraid to complain about the conditions so that they are not evicted. “It’s a nasty place to live,” a resident of a derelict building told Kuwait Times. But his friend Jirjis has a more rational view. “I’ve been living in Kuwait since 1993. There’s a beautiful thing about Kuwait – the blessing of stability and security. I’m comfortable here, despite how pathetic this place might be,” he said. Jirjis shares an apartment with three roommates – Sulaiman, Hatim and Paulus.
Most of the building’s residents are from Egypt and Pakistan, along with a Syrian family that didn’t want to speak out. “We are civilized people. We use smartphones to talk to our families and keep us entertained. Also, we like watching Arab soap operas in our free time,” said Paulus. The refrigerator is set near the television in the living room because there isn’t enough space for it in the tiny kitchen.
The external chaos is not a genuine reflection of what’s happening inside. The residents are organized, respectful and take regular turns to clean their flats. A neighbor told Kuwait Times he has been working for 10 years in Kuwait, and previously had a job at Al-Azhar. “Christians live next to Muslims, and everyone respects each other’s beliefs and stays in peace. But we are seriously considering leaving the building in search for another place because it’s going to be demolished sooner or later, and we will have to leave eventually. We are not poor – we have jobs and homes in our motherlands. However, our weak salaries make finding a decent apartment very difficult,” he said.
Another resident hesitated to speak to Kuwait Times, asking: “What am I going to get in return and what is the purpose of writing such a story?” Probably, he will not gain anything – however, the more attention we draw towards this issue, the more we can encourage decision makers to make the provision of safe and clean housing obligatory for migrant workers to safeguard their dignity and humanity.
By Athoob Al-Shuaibi