United Arab Emirates: The Living Nightmare of Migrant Workers


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES  (UAE)                                 

Population: 8.2 million

Emirati nationals account for only about 11% % of the population.

Fertility Rate:  4.6 children/woman (1970s) vs. 2.2 children/woman (2010)

Life Expectancy:  62 years (1970s) vs. 76 years (2010)

Infant mortality:  11.59 deaths / 1000 live births

Male/Female Ratio:  2.19 males  / female

Major Religion:  Islam

– Out of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the UAE has the highest percentage of foreign workers.  Migrant workers constitute 85% of the population and 90% of the workforce in the private sector, predominantly construction, hospitality and domestic service. 

– Domestic workers form 5% of UAE’s population.  On an average, UAE issues 300 visas everyday to domestic workers. There are three domestic workers per household in United Arab Emirates on an average basis.

– Some of the worst examples of labor abuses against migrant workers have been reported in the UAE.  They include non-payment of wages, extended working hours without overtime rates of pay, unsafe working conditions resulting in deaths and injuries, unhealthy living conditions in the labor camps, the withholding of passports and travel documents, and tied contracts that make it illegal to change employers.  If workers wish to break the contract, they are responsible for buying a ticket home – usually impossible given the circumstances. Furthermore, the region’s labor laws favor the employer -a citizen, over the foreigner, further disempowering laborers.

 One in four marriages end in divorce.  UAE has the highest rate of divorce-to-marriage in the oil-rich Gulf region. 

– In a country where abortion is illegal, women are turning to a cheap ulcer medication to end unwanted pregnancies. The medication, registered for use to prevent gastric ulcers, is easily available.  It takes only a quick phone call, Dh1,500 (about $400) and a trip to Bur Dubai to purchase the pill which induces Do It Yourself (DIY) abortions.

– Although prostitution is strictly illegal in the country, it is virtually a national pastime.  UAE attracts many foreign businessmen as UAE has gained a reputation as one of the Middle East’s sex tourism destinations, with about 30,000 imported prostitutes. 

–  The majority of women in the UAE do not report rape or other crimes of sexual assault.  The very act of reporting a rape automatically puts a woman in danger of being charged with illegal sex or sex outside marriage.  Illicit sex carries a harsh sentence of imprisonment and/or flogging.  UAE law condones sexual violence by placing an almost impossible burden of proof on rape victims to show that sex was nonconsensual.  On top of risking prosecution, a rape survivor in the UAE is also likely to face ostracism by society, and even her family. 

















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