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Kuwait fire kills 49 foreign workers

June 12, 2024 at 4:03 pm

Kuwait’s firefighters try to contain a massive fire in a dump for used tyres, on 17 April 2012 [YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images]

At least 49 people were killed in Kuwait on Wednesday after a fire broke out in a building which housed foreign workers, Reuters has reported. Kuwait’s deputy prime minister accused property owners of committing violations that contribute towards such incidents.

The nationalities of those who were killed were not immediately disclosed by the local authorities. Nevertheless, India’s ambassador visited hospitals where workers were being treated for injuries sustained in the fire. At one hospital, more than 30 Indian citizens were admitted, the embassy said on social media, adding that at least 47 workers had received treatment in hospitals.

Several Indians, including some from the southern state of Kerala, were reported to have died in the fire, according to a letter written by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to India’s foreign minister that was shared with the press.

A government agency for Keralites living outside the state said it had been told by the Indian community in Kuwait that 41 Indians, including 11 from Kerala, had died in the fire. Reuters could not independently verify the figures.

Visiting the site of the fire, Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Fahad Yusuf Saud Al-Sabah claimed that, “The greed of real estate owners is what leads to these matters.” It was not immediately clear if any violations had taken place at the building or what they were.

Low paid, blue collar workers in the Gulf often live in overcrowded accommodation. Local authorities did not disclose what kind of employment the workers were engaged in, although as in other Gulf states, Kuwait relies heavily upon foreign labour in industries like construction, including many people from South and South-East Asia.

An Egyptian who survived the fire and worked as a driver in Kuwait told local media that it had started on a lower floor and that those on higher levels were unable to escape. He said the building had filled with thick smoke.

Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the fire and said that any officials found responsible would be held accountable.

The interior ministry, which said the death toll had risen to 49, was investigating, searching the site for victims and working to identify those who had died, state media reported.

The fire in Mangaf, a city along the coast south of the capital Kuwait City, was reported to local authorities at 6am (3am GMT), Major General Eid Rashed Hamad told state television.

Another senior police commander said that many people had died from smoke inhalation, and dozens were rescued. The building, he noted, housed a large number of workers, even though the authorities had warned against housing too many workers in one building, but he didn’t say if regulations had been flouted.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described news of the fire as saddening in a post on social media platform X. “My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones. I pray that the injured recover at the earliest.”

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