Gulf investors may have seen their investments shrink, but hundreds of foreign labourers in the United Arab Emirates are suffering a far worse fate as a result of the Dubai-centered economic bust.

Abandoned by companies that pulled up stakes in the downturn, hundreds have been left with no pay, confiscated passports and barely enough food to survive.

One camp in the emirate of Sharjah has had no electricity for two months, and the 38 men from Pakistan and Bangladesh who live there haven’t received their $220-per-month wage for 10 months.

Cramped conditions

According to Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, the men live together in cramped rooms and take their mattresses onto the roof at night to escape the oppressive summer heat, which can reach 50 degrees Celsius.

The workers say their Indian employer has fled the country, and though they have registered their abandoned status with a court, they have only received new passports in return.

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The UAE's labour ministry says the problem is an isolated one.

"The total number affected is a few hundred workers out of 1.9 million workers in the construction industry," Humaid bin Dimas, the ministry's general manager, told Al Jazeera. "There are about 50,000 companies in this sector. There is no such phenomenon." 

Around 12 million foreign workers are estimated to live in the Gulf, where they are forbidden to form labour unions.

Some progress on workers' rights has been achieved, and the labour laws on the books in certain countries, including the UAE, does technically protect workers, Azfar Khan, a senior migration specialist at the International Labour Organisation, told Al Jazeera.

But such laws often are not enforced due to "policy incoherence", Khan said, especially in the UAE, where workers in different industries are covered by different sets of laws.

Still, the promise of higher wages seems likely to continue luring laborers to the Gulf. But the abandoned workers in the Sharjah camp say they want to return.

Source: Al Jazeera