O

n March 20, Susmi Gurung, a 29-year-old migrant
worker from Nepal, began her day as usual. She awoke

in the room she shared with nine other employees of
Transguard Group, the United Arab Emirates–based
company that had placed her in customer service at the
Dubai International Airport nearly three years prior. The
room was one of many, packed and utilitarian, that made
up the Al Quoz 10 labor camp, one of many such camps in
the industrial zone south of the city center. Before long,
Gurung’s routine was brought to a sudden halt by her
supervisor, who informed her that her employment—and
salary—would be suspended indefinitely because of the
rapidly deepening Covid-19 crisis. Overnight, Gurung
found herself stranded without income, nearly 2,000 miles
from her husband and 7-year-old daughter, as the world
descended into a pandemic.
“We were all very scared,” she recalled to me in a phone
call, describing the swift lockdown that followed, adding
that the company’s Covid-19 protection measures were
minimal. “They put hand sanitizer out and gave each
person just one mask that we had to keep washing and
reusing for months. But they weren’t testing us.” Some of
the workers were still required to report for duty, leaving
Gurung terrified that they’d “bring the virus back with
them” and spread it around the camp. She recalls that
these workers were given temperature checks upon return
—a measure that detects only those cases in which a fever
is present, but can miss many others. She started to hear
rumors of infections breaking out in the camp, and her
apprehension grew. “We were sure we’d get sick.”
Gurung’s terror of falling ill was compounded by the loss of
her monthly salary of 1,100 AED (the Emirati dirham,
roughly equivalent to $300). Although Transguard
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