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The side of Dubai that they do not want tourists to see.

The side of Dubai that they do not want tourists to see.
Author: Kristine Puisane
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Abstract: This paper provides a summary of existing literature on migrant workers and human rights in the United Arab Emirates and focuses on how Dubai was developed.

Keywords: Dubai, human rights, migrant workers, poverty.

Dubai is presented as a luxury destination and might be called paradise or dream for travelers, because of its spectacular tall buildings, shopping malls, hot weather, gardens and lots of money. However, less than half of tourists know what conceals behind Dubai abundant image. Behind the glitz and glamour of Dubai often lies a murky world of exploitation and an immigrant work force living on the breadline (Allen, 2009). Systematic violations of migrant workers’ human rights and striking health disparities among these populations in the United Arab Emirates are the norm in member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Sonmez et al., 2010). In general, about 90 percent of the UAE workforce consists of migrant workers that daily are mistreated.

In the late 1960s in Dubai, oil was discovered and it was beginning of changes. However, in comparison to the other UAE countries, Dubai had small amount of oil resources. This is why the government decided to use money to attract foreign tourists to boost Dubai’s economy. Dubai started to grow rapidly in population number and in construction amount.

However, not for everyone Dubai is a dream city to work and live in. Report of Emirates Centre Human Rights (2012) state that international human rights organizations have described some of the worst examples of labor abuses for the lowest income groups living in the UAE. Firstly, the most extreme nature of exploitation is the result of the Kafala sponsorship program, which allocates disproportionate power to sponsors and employers in determining the legal residence of workers. Sonmez et al., (2010) state that the construction boom requires and is driven by immigrant workers and low labor costs. Kafala system is the only way how workers could residence and work within country. According to ECHR (2012) two of the biggest concerns relate specifically to debt bondage and the confiscation of passports. It has been common practice for employment agencies to charge high recruitment fees to workers in their home countries under false promises of high wages. After arriving workers live in places which are at very poor condition, work 12 hours a day under heat, exhausted and dehydrated. In some cases they are paid far less than was promised in other cases they do not get their salary or any medical care. Unfortunately, the government has no set rules in place to effectively protect immigrant workers (Akouris, 2014). As a result this leads to mistreatment and abuse of human rights.

Another example that is not new phenomenon is exploitation of domestic workers. Domestic workers represent between 5 and 10% of the UAE’s 4.6 million population, depending on the source of information (The Middle East Institute, 2010). Mostly, these are women who travel to Gulf countries and work as housekeepers or nannies. As with construction workers, the kafala system fuels trafficking and forced labor for domestic laborers, who rely on employment agencies and brokers and enter contractual bondage with employers, thereby exposing themselves to exploitation and abuse (Mahdavi, 2010). In some case it might be even worse, Sonez et al., (2010) state that domestic servants are not covered by either the 1980 UAE Labor Law or the 2007 Draft Labor Law and so are not entitled to labor protection; domestic servants are not considered employees, households where they work are not considered workplaces, private persons who hire them are not considered employers, and so lab our inspectors are forbidden from visiting private households. This makes them unprotected from exploitation and abuse and might lead to another Dubai’s problems such as sexual exploitation.

Pacione (2005) states that Scores of taxi drivers, maids, hotel and restaurant employees and entertainment personnel were deemed necessary to meet growing tourist demand. As a result of lenient laws and entertainment not easily found in neighbouring countries, Dubai has become a sex tourism destination. Prostitution in Dubai makes approximately 30 percent of the economy. Moreover, Jazeera (2009) note that many sex workers in the UAE have been trafficked into the country for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and labor to meet increased demand.

It is obviously, that Dubai is good place to live and work only for wealthy citizens. The exploitation and abuse of migrant laborers is well documented, yet there is a troubling paucity of literature examining their plight with regard to health care, a basic tenet of human rights (Sonez et al., 2010). This particular situation in the United Arab Emirates is not new and needs to get more attention. Why this rich and luxury tourist destination mistreats its workers that have built paradise in desert.

Key References:

Sonmez, S., Apostopoulos, Y., Tran, D. and Rentrope, S. (2010) Human Rights and health disparities for migrant workers in the UAE [online]. [Accessed on 3 May 2015]. Available at: <http://www.hhrjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2013/06/Sonmez21.pdf>;

Echr (2012) Migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) [online]. [Accessed on 3 May 2015]. Available at:< http://www.echr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ECHR-Report-on-Migrant-Workers-in-the-UAE.pdf>;
The Exploitation of Workers in the Fantasy City
Author: Daniel Whittaker
The reason that this particular paper has been chosen is because of a shared interest in the city of Dubai and the side that the city desires to hide from tourists, and also because of having previously of done work on this topic.

The author talks about Dubai and how it is presented as a luxury destination, the work by Hannigan in his book Fantasy City compliments the authors interpretation of the cities image and development, as Hannigan explains the phenomenon of Cities like Dubai, and dubs them cities of Fantasy, he argues in his book “that Fantasy City is the end-product of a long-standing cultural contradiction in American society between the middleclass desire for experience and their parallel reluctance to take risks, especially those which involve contact with the “lower orders” in cities” (Hannigan, 1998, p7). This links it with tourist’s ignorance of the abused workforce in Dubai.

The Americanisation development of Dubai is also further linked to Hannigan’s statement as the reluctance for visitors of a fantasy city to take risks is covered by the many American brands present in Dubai, such as McDonalds, and Subway, keeping tourists within their comfort zones but allowing them to be some where different.

Someone had to build the city of fantasy, and serve the tourists that visit it, and as the author states these workers are often taken advantage of. It is indeed through the exploitation of these workers that Dubai has been able to become so rich. What is worth noting however is that Dubai has successfully been able to hide this side of the city in part because of the tourists desire to remain ignorant and avoid encounters with those that do not fit their image of the fantasy city, unless it is to be served by them as staff in a hotel, restaurant, etc. The Fantasy city is one built for its tourists, not its residents with it being “both redesigned and reimaged for visitors rather than for residents” (Judd and Fainstein, 1999, p54). A backlash of the poor treatment of the local workers is that crime becomes a much larger issue in the poorer areas of the city and as visitors as shielded from these areas they remain ignorant of their plight.

The subject of exploited workers is certainly a topic that would value from further research, as the exploitation of these workers should not be allowed to continue and steps need to be taken to give these workers fairer treatment.


Hannigan, J (1998). Fantasy City. London: Routledge.

Judd, D. and Fainstein, S. (1999). The Tourist City. London: Yale University Press.