The Plight of Migrant Workers in the UAE

When one thinks of the United Arab Emirates, they often times think of the glitz and glamour surrounding this jewel beside the sea. What is more often gravely overlooked is the blood, sweat and tears of the exploited migrant workers that labor day after day to create this getaway.

Migrant workers make up roughly 85 percent of the total population in Dubai alone, and only a handful are actual citizens. Of the entire 9.2 million population of the emirates, 7.8 million are migrant workers. With such a large population of migrants, there is always the possibility that abuse is in great prevalence, and oftentimes, just searching up migrant workers in the UAE, an entire array of exposed abuses pops up.

Just one example is the appalling living conditions in camps made for construction workers. Their primary job is to construct the glamorous buildings and skyscrapers that tourists and locals alike see lighting up the landscape. Reporter Ben Anderson from the BBC went to a Bengali labor camp to show just how terrible the living conditions were, along with stories of workers deceived into working with these companies, often with the hopes of better pay to send to their families.

Furthermore, when looking at the abuses that go on, these workers are usually paid low wages (if paid at all), have their passports taken away, as well as risk injury and even death working in dangerous conditions. On top of all these problems, they are not guaranteed adequate medical care, such as with the case of a worker who lost his leg. He received a prosthetic leg, however is not receiving the accommodations (like living on the ground floor) to cope with his injury. (make sure to view the video on the given link above as well, the conditions are terrible)

Putting this into perspective, there are approximately 500,000 construction workers, and there is no guarantee that these men are being treated any better than shown in the clip above (link is in Bengali labor camp). At the same time, there are also around 450,000 domestic workers as well.

The plight of domestic workers unfortunately, is not that much better than the construction workers. Female migrant workers especially, are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers through the kafala  system. Essentially, with the system these workers are subject to whatever their employer deems right, as they were the ones to sponsor the workers in the first place. This in turn allows little legal flexibility in terms of providing basic rights to workers.

Many of these workers are from South Asian and Pacific Island countries that have seen a rise in women going off to Gulf countries to earn higher wages. The issue is, these workers are not protected under both the, “1980 UAE Labor Law or the 2007 Draft Labor Law and so are not entitled to labor protection,” and furthermore are usually hired into private households-exempt from being inspected by labor inspectors, according to the Health and Human Rights Journal.

To put this into the perspective of a domestic worker, these women often endure treatment such as being denied an adequate amount of food, being beaten and neglected by the employers, and being punished for seeking legal action. This behavior with workers is facilitated by the mentality that the employers essentially “own” the workers, and that they are indebted to their employers because of the sponsorship.

Although not every migrant worker experiences these conditions, the ones that do, make up a shockingly high number. Unfortunately, the UAE is not the only Gulf country to experience these abuses, nor is it the only country to treat its expatriate workers as such. These abuses exist from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States, Canada, and even more recently in the news,  Hong Kong, just to name a few.

If this disregard continues for human life, how many more workers will be put into harms way to build these empires? How many more of the millions that have been exploited and abused be misused further? Most importantly, who will set the standard and pave the way for workers rights worldwide?

The UAE is one of the biggest examples of how these workers are exploited and deceived into working for rich employers and greedy corporations, yet this seems to be an international phenomenon in the developed world. What is important to take away from these observations is that abuse is extensive when it comes to the treatment of migrant workers, and it is just one way that a global network is influencing the development of impoverished countries everywhere.

There is no such thing as being truly developed, until the humanity in such a place is developed as well. Until we have basic rights given to the workers whose backs we have broken and whose blood and sweat have stained our metropolises, there is no pride in being the leaders we call ourselves in the developed world. The only thing left is the shame associated with the very ideals we wish to uphold anywhere else but our own backyards.

To quote Sigmund Freud, “The first requisite of civilization is that of justice,” but without that justice, where is our civilization headed?


  1. Every time you post something I find myself learning something and finding a new cause to support. Excellent informative post. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks man 🙂 These are all things that affect me in some way, and I feel like others need to know about how important they are. If I could solve every problem I would, but until then, my job is to tell someone who might be able to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. By writing about it you are spreading awareness. And often times that is the key to bringing about a solution. Inspirational stuff – keep it up!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea there were that many migrant workers in Dubai, amazing. When you consider how these people are being treated, how empty the words of our leaders are, when they condemn their “enemies” for the human rights violations in their countries.

    Bases on Freud’s assessment, we are not civilized people

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went there once, and I was surprised to see that most of the people roaming around were foreigners. On top of that, most of the people cleaning up after everyone or working menial jobs were either South Asian or Pacific Islander.

      Unfortunately, because of this ill treatment, many that come from the same area I do harbor negative feelings towards Arabs in general.

      Liked by 1 person

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