MANAMA: Javid Eqbal toiled in Bahrain to earn his family’s living, only to be attacked with swords by alleged Shia protesters who loathed Pakistanis for being the foot soldiers of the security forces.
Living in fear of being targeted again, and sheltering at the Pakistani Club in Manama, all he wants now is to get his passport back from his local sponsor and to go home, after at least one Pakistani was killed last week.
Like most Asian workers in the Gulf, he had a low-paid job as a painter.
And on March 13, he and his flatmates became victims of the intensified clashes between the predominantly Shia protesters and police.
That night, Eqbal and his flatmates awoke to find youths breaking into their place, brandishing swords, hammers and steel rods.
“They started beating us after they found out we were Pakistanis,” said Eqbal, despite telling them that they were labourers, not police.
“They said: ‘You people are here to kill us’,” he said, quoting a youth who left him with injuries to the head, chest and feet, before they torched the place.
Eqbal is hiding at the club along with around 300 Pakistani labourers who for the past week have not dared to stay in their homes or go to work.
Dressed in traditional Pakistani garb, he sat in a community room with some 20 others. Next to him lay flatmate Mohammed Waqar with a bandaged arm that revealed a hand covered in oily burns ointment.
He was too worn out to speak. Eqbal said Waqar, who also had head injuries, was burned when their flat was set ablaze.
“These are simple people earning bread and butter for their families,” said Malik Fiaz, a member of the community who helped to interpret as most workers could not speak English.
“The problem is that Pakistani policemen are put on the front lines” of riot police in clashes with Shia demonstrators.
“This is not their own choice. This is their job. They have to obey orders,” he said, acknowledging that many Pakistanis serve in the Bahraini police.
Many Pakistanis, as well as Sunni Arabs, have been naturalised in Bahrain, infuriating the Shia majority which believes that many are given citizenship to tip the demographic balance in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.
There are reportedly more than 50,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain, many in the police and security services.
“The Pakistani community has suffered more than any other foreign community,” said Fiaz, allegedly at the hands of Shia who spearheaded a month-long pro-democracy protest that was quashed on Wednesday by security forces.
Mohammed Babar, 27, was also a victim of the attacks targeting his community. His arm in plaster, he said he was hit with a steel rod as some 20 youths attacked a labourers’ residence near the central business district on March 13.
“They want us to leave Bahrain. Pakistani people have jobs in government that they (Bahrainis) think should be theirs,” he said.
Most of those terrified workers want to return home.
“Everybody wants to go back to Pakistan. We are scared here,” said Hassan Cheema, a 22-year-old telecommunications worker.
Injured workers alleged that they were also denied treatment at Salmaniya central hospital, and that they were beaten by some medical staff who sympathised with protesters.
“They kicked us out because we are Pakistanis. Some hospital staff beat us,” Eqbal charged.
Salmaniya Medical Complex is the country’s largest public sector hospital and has been the focus of conflicting reports of abuse, as authorities claimed that Shiia staff turned the complex into a protest ground, while the international community denounced the storming of the facility by police.
Salmaniya continues to be controlled by the army with masked men vetting all traffic in and out.
Former opposition MP Matar Matar, a Shia, condemned such attacks on workers, saying he was unable to confirm or deny reports that some Shia youths had assaulted foreign workers.
“Although we are in the midst of a conflict, that does not mean we abandon our values. We respect foreign communities,” said Matar, one of 18 MPs of the Al-Wefaq association to resign last month in protest at the violent repression of protests.
He also said that although many Pakistanis and other foreigners are believed to have obtained Bahraini nationality ahead of time by joining the military, “many have been naturalised for spending the legally required period in Bahrain, and many have made valuable services to Bahrain.”