Alexandria collapsed factory victims blame tragedy on "bribes"

Ekram Ibrahim in Alexandria, Wednesday 15 Dec 2010

Anger and frustration mount in Alexandria after 26 were killed and 10 were injured in the collapse of a clothes factory built in 1965 without a license

Alexandria factory collapse
26 people were killed when a factory collapsed in Alexandria on Sunday. Photo: Ekram Ibrahim

"The hospital is asking for LE400 ($70) to treat my daughter, but I have no money,” said Moussa Shehata, the father of 14-year-old Marwa, a victim of both child labour and the collapse of the clothing factory where she works. The factory, located in El-Hadra, north Alexandria, collapsed last Sunday.

Marwa, who makes less than LE7 (1.5 dollars) a day, lost her twin sister Safaa, and is now lying in the hospital having broken both her legs and an arm.

According to Adel Labib, Alexandria's governor, the factory was built in 1965 without a license, and has no legal documents from the local council.

As many as 26 people were killed and ten were injured in the factory's collapse. The rescue team said it completed its search for bodies this morning.

The victims' families blame the tragedy on "bribes" which they claim the factory owner paid to employees in the local council, who in exchange turned a blind eye to the state of the facility. “Every now and then we find local council officials coming to the factory, money is paid and the factory continues working,” Safaa Abdel Aziz, the aunt of one of the victims, told Ahram Online.

Clashes erupted yesterday between the police and outraged family members of the workers, when the police refused to let them near the site to check on their injured relatives or identify the bodies. “The police ordered us to identify them at the morgue instead,” Abdel Aziz told Ahram Online.

“The building should have been demolished years ago, we are not dogs to forgo our lives,” she added.

As the building collapsed on Sunday, residents of the district gathered to help people out, before the police and rescue team arrived. The residents successfully pulled out injured victims. But "since the bulldozers" arrived "they are getting out dead bodies,” said Mohamed Abul Dahab, a resident of the Hadra district who was watching the scene with teary eyes. “This bulldozer kills people, they got a bloody body today – how can you see fresh blood coming from a person who died two days ago?” he asked.

The factory workers come from poor families living in the disadvantaged area of El-Hadra, at the northern port city of Alexandria. They have agreed to send their daughters to work despite the fact that the girls are below the legal working age and are making very low wages. Accordingly, they cannot afford to hospitalize their injured relatives.

“If these people have money, they wouldn’t have sent their daughters to work in the first place,” said Essam Hussien, a driver who was at the scene.  

Alexandria's governor promised to compensate families who lost their relatives with LE10,000 ($ 1,750). He also promised to provide a LE5000 ($877) compensation package to those injured. However, to make matters worse, the compensation is not paid immediately, but only after relatives present a death certificate for the reported victim. In the cases of injured workers, they must provide hospital documentation, indicating that they are receiving medication or being treated.

Some families are complaining about this form of compensation because they are not capable of paying hospital expenses. “No one has paid us anything and no one will,” said Abdel Nasser Mubarak, father of Gihad Abdel Nasser who survived the collapse. Gihad has been in the hospital since Sunday.

Ahmed Teera, the factory owner whose whereabouts have not been identified and who is possibly on the lam, is also accused of employing people without legal contracts and of hiring girls under the legal working age, according to Mohamed Ibrahim, Alexandria's Chief Security Officer. 

14-year-old Shehata is still in the hospital, waiting for her father to get money so that the doctors will operate on her. She does not know yet that she has lost her twin sister.


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