Friday, 21 January 2011

Actually, Dubai is Pretty Ugly

Source: afp/ getty images
Begin by watching this 3 minute video from the BBC website.

"Two hundred years ago people who controlled workers used whips to enslave them. Today they use immigrations law"

Aiden McQuade
Director, Anti-Slavery International

"Whether they live or die, no one cares"

John  Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

These are not quotes about a far off mythical land for which we do not need to worry. These are not quotes describing the misfortune of those living in a third world dictatorship. They are in fact referring to the slavery rife in everyone's favourite city - Dubai.

It may be described as the jewel of the Middle East because of its glittering skyline and awe inspiring buildings but some see it as a stain on humanity. The modern day slavery and refusal to acknowledge, let alone address this issue, in my mind, kind of outweighs their architectural advancements.

According to the Constitution of the UAE, all people in Dubai regardless of race, nationality, religion and class are entitled to equal treatment. Tell that to the impoverished workers who are forced to work all hours of the day with little or no pay; forced to live in squalid, overcrowded rooms; forced to be cattled to work in carts and back; lured into this land of opportunity with offers of decent wages and flights home. What ensues is quite the opposite – gangmasters confiscate passports and all legal papers, so that the workers literally have no way out. The workers, who are mainly from the Indian subcontinent, live in labour camps away from the bright lights and luxury.

Labour camps. Labour camps – It may not be government policy but how can the authorities not know about labour camps? It would have been quite a different story were there not tens of thousands of forced labourers working in their midst, building their magnificent towers, doing the jobs no one wants. Most have little or no rights. They are treated with no respect and their dignity was left somewhere on the plane when they landed. 

I am not a journalist – nowhere near. But it is my passion for human rights and speaking out against injustice which has led me to write this up. I feel as though the common attitude towards Dubai is that it is the land of dreams and luxury – anything else is the price that has to be paid for that level of advancement. That should not be the case.

Each human being is worth the same. We all have dreams and aspirations. We all feel love and hurt. We all feel like a failure when we cannot fulfil our potential, when we cannot provide, when we cannot achieve. I am living in my selfish world, with my rights and freedom yet I still like to complain about my life and job. It is nowhere near to how bad these people have it. They are human. They have families. They have hopes. Up until a few years ago they were not even allowed trade unions to even begin to represent their plight.

These people are just that – people. They are human beings. They are not cattle and this is not the 19th century. The world is well aware of what happened during the African slave trade. We all studied the horrors in our history classes. We know this is wrong. Yet most people list Dubai as one of the places they would most love to visit. Their tourism industry is thriving. The celebrities are setting up second homes and companies are lining up to invest (hence support) this tyrannical state. Why?

Why are these labourers worth less than anyone else on this earth? Why do people like to ignore the ugly truth and focus on the big hotels? How can we bathe in the Dubai sun when we know the secrets the shadows of the city hold?

I don’t want to sound like a sanctimonious cow but I want to do as much as I can to make people aware. The authority in Dubai need to be told, shown, that what is happening in their country is unacceptable. They need to tackle this problem head on and eradicate all forced labour or get used to not living off the revenue generated by tourism.

Don't be a part of this. Don't give them your money. Don't give them your support.

For more information:
The Dark Side of Dubai (The Independent)
Dubai (Wikipedia)


  1. Well written, I can feel your anguish and your sincerity in your writing if not your passion....

    I would like to shed light on why I as a tourist who will be going to Dubai's not that I don't understand or that I choose to ignore the a FACT that this is happening, its merely a 2 way coin...let me explain...

    On one side there is a selfishness to want to experience for one self one of the beauties of the world "breathtaking", "you will never want to go anywhere else again" is just some of the comments...but then on the other side, you know you are contributing to what is deemed as cruelty and an injustice because without people the tourism/economy wouldn't survive....

    Not that I am trying to make excuses, its just humans sometimes don't necessarily ever feel the pain of another if they do not walk in their shoes and so other things out weigh that....

    I could throw this out to you in 2 ways...(not that these are my views)

    1. China has a similar much of your clothing that you have worn on your back has come from child manufacturing or even a person working crazy hours?

    2. If the only way a person in a labour camp is to get out is to make enough money, then without tourism how is he/she ever going to get there?

    Underneath all the anguish lies a much deeper problem...morality/greed/power...its not right what is happening!! More people in fact need to step up and make a stand as you have...

  2. Thank you, for taking the time out to comment!

    You've definately raised some very important points and I do understand where you are coming from. I wouldn't push my opinions down anyone's throat or condemn anyone who goes - its our God given right to make our own decisions.

    Re: China, if I were to boycott every unjust country, as much as I'd love to, it would be near on impossible unless I lived under a rock! :( It will be very difficult, but we should all do what we can I guess!

    Thanks again, it was interesting hearing the other side.

  3. My dear Rie,I will never say you were the type to force and opinion down anyone's neck...I love hearing another viewpoint as its always good to see what potentially you miss or fail to recognise...

    I think saying something is always better than saying has to start somewhere!!

  4. This is very well written. I have to admit before reading this I didn't know this was an issue over there. However, not turning a blind eye but I would still like to visit Dubai. It's just somewhere I've always said I wanted to go.