‘I thought I was on fire’: Driv­ers face gang ter­ror

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - ELISE KNUTSEN

LON­DON: Delivery driv­ers in the UK cap­i­tal are liv­ing “in ter­ror” of acid at­tacks as crim­i­nals are in­creas­ingly us­ing cor­ro­sive sub­stances to steal mo­tor­bikes, work­ers claim.

“The acid at­tacks have caused such ter­ror in our minds,” said Abu Su­mon, a delivery driver who works with Uber Eats and orig­i­nally hails from Bangladesh. “This is our big­gest con­cern nowa­days.”

Fel­low driv­ers have been tar­geted by at­tack­ers in re­cent months, in­clud­ing Jabed Hus­sain. Hus­sain was fin­ish­ing his shift as an Uber Eats driver last sum­mer when a teenager sprayed acid on him. His face be­gan to burn al­most im­me­di­ately. “I can't ex­plain to you how it felt,” he re­called. “I was cry­ing like a baby.”

While many of his phys­i­cal in­juries have healed — he was shielded largely by his hel­met — the psy­cho­log­i­cal scars of the at­tack re­main. “I don't trust any­one at the mo­ment,” he said. Lock­ing his doors and peer­ing over his shoul­der, Hus­sain said he lives in near-con­stant fear.

Sadly, Hus­sain's story is not unique. Acid at­tacks have in­creased across the UK, with more than 400 in­ci­dents oc­cur­ring last year in Lon­don alone. Crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity is be­hind the rise in at­tacks, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, with acid in­creas­ingly used as a weapon in gang vi­o­lence and at­tempted mug­gings. Delivery driv­ers, who ride alone in un­fa­mil­iar ar­eas, of­ten work­ing long into the night, have been tar­geted.

MD Naw­shad Ka­mal was the vic­tim of an acid at­tack while de­liv­er­ing a meal for the Turk­ish restau­rant he worked for. Af­ter be­ing ap­proached by two young men who de­manded the keys to his moped, Ka­mal said he re­mem­bers see­ing one of them pull out a plas­tic bot­tle. “The next thing I re­al­ized was that my eyes were burn­ing,” he said. “It was like I was on fire.”

Ka­mal suf­fered se­ri­ous burns to his eyes and was kept un­con­scious by doc­tors for six days while he un­der­went treat­ment. The at­tack shocked fel­low delivery driv­ers, he said. “Some of my friends, when they heard about me, be­cause they do the same job, they said they were go­ing to sell their bikes,” he told Arab News. “Ev­ery­one is scared.”

Ac­cord­ing to Su­mon, at­tacks such as those against Hus­sain and Ka­mal have forced driv­ers to take ex­treme pre­cau­tions in their daily rou­tines: When de­liv­er­ing to high-crime ar­eas, they now share their lo­ca­tion with one an­other via What­sApp in case they are at­tacked. Other ar­eas have been de­clared un­of­fi­cial “no-go” zones, he said. He and fel­low driv­ers reg­u­larly refuse to take jobs in parts of Hack­ney, Tower Ham­lets and Ne­wham af­ter dark as mug­gings, in­clud­ing acid at­tacks, are on the in­crease, he said.

Uber Eats did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the is­sue.

Su­mon said the au­thor­i­ties had failed to take the con­cerns of delivery driv­ers se­ri­ously. “Be­cause we are work­ing-class and the ma­jor­ity of delivery driv­ers are from im­mi­grant back­grounds … I feel that prob­a­bly there is a neg­li­gence from law en­force­ment and on the gov­ern­ment sides,” he said. “They don't tend to care about us.”

Hus­sain, who is orig­i­nally from Bangladesh, said the UK gov­ern­ment should do more. “In Bangladesh, I was never a vic­tim of an acid at­tack,” he told Arab News. “But it was here, in one of the most civ­i­lized coun­tries, in this mul­ti­cul­tural city.”

Jabed Hus­sain, who was at­tacked last sum­mer, with Stephen Timms MP, left. (Ali Noori)

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