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Rights groups condemn UAE’s deporting 800 migrant workers

Migrant workers

The UAE authorities kidnapped, illegally detained and tortured over 800 African migrant workers on 24 and 25 June before their mass deportation, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies said in report.

The report, compiling witness testimonies from over 20 victims, concludes that the attacks were planned, targeted and racially motivated, said a statement on the organizations’ websites.

The report said the victims were taken over the course of two nights, with an unknown number still under detention. The majority were deported despite valid residence visas and/or work permits, the report said.

Migrant workers

According to the testimonies the Emirati Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) raided five residential buildings in Abu Dhabi known to house African nationals in the early hours of the 24 and 25 June 2021.

Testimonies report authorities destroying CCTV and Wi-Fi, before breaking into homes, destroying property and tasering and arresting individuals without charge.

The report said the workers were forced from their homes, some in their underwear, permitted to take with them only their passports, the report said, adding that during the raid, the soldiers shouted racial abuse and sexually assaulted both men and women.

The workers, who were of many different nationalities within Africa, were then transported to al-Wathba prison, a prison complex 44km from Abu Dhabi, and detained without charge, in cells holding up to 60 people with just three bathrooms, the report said.

Bad detention conditions

Victims, who include pregnant women, report being chained by their hands and feet for up two weeks, having no access to sanitary and hygiene products and being refused medical attention, the report said.

The victims were interrogated, beaten, physically and psychologically tortured by the authorities, who questioned them about their legal status, profession, and salaries. Many were accused of prostitution, the report said.

Detained workers were told that they would be brought to court, but this did not happen throughout their detention, the report said.

Following five weeks of imprisonment, the African nationals began to be deported from the UAE, and were boarded on commercial flights, for which the UAE authorities faked Covid-19 tests, the report said.

The migrant workers returned home in possession of only their phones and legal documents.

Reports from victims show repeated attempts to alert domestic governments, embassies and immigration officials, to no response.

In recent days, victims have reported viewing their jobs advertised online now restricted to Asian-only nationality.

“The UAE have violated nine of its international human rights obligations enshrined in its constitution. But more importantly, they’ve also destroyed the lives and livelihoods of over 800 individuals,” said Michela Pugliese, Migration Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.

Euro-Med Monitor and ImpACT called for the immediate release of those still detained.

The UAE has a well-documented history of restricting and exploiting migrant workers’ rights, despite foreign workers making up 95% of the country’s workforce.

The country’s Kafala system, alongside a lack of labour protections, historically has left migrant workers exposed to abuse by private companies and UAE authorities.

For African nationals, this is exacerbated by routine racism and the discriminatory measures they were subjected to under the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


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