A Transient Population

Video: Conditions of Dubai’s immigrant workers highlighted

 “Regardless of how many years I will end up living in the UAE, of one thing I am certain. It is that I shall always look upon myself as a guest in this country.”
–Nicholas Coates, “We Come, We Work, We Go” gulfnews.com, June 28, 2006

Dubai is by all means a Migrant City. In 2005 it had the highest percentage of foreign born population at 83%, with Miami ranking second with a much lower 51%. Statistics break down the population further into nationalities. 55.6% are from India and Pakistan and another 12% are from Asian countries.[1] Additionally, there is a 75/25 male/female ratio among the current population of 1.4 million.[2] The large number of migrant workers in Dubai accounts for the imbalances of the population. The history blog entry addressed that the large percentage of migrant workers is not a new scenario to Dubai, as workers have been migrating there since the 1900s. However, as the city grows towards megacity status, its unique population structure has presented problems as larger cities face more issues regarding social housing and slums.

In order to keep the Emirati population from diminishing to 1% Dubai does not allow any immigrants to become citizens, regardless of if they were born there or how long they have lived there. There is even a proposal to limit a workers stay to six years.[3] If that law is passed Dubai will certainly become a transient city, with half of its population circulating in and out on a very short term. A BBC news video clip from January 20 2011 reports on the immigrant worker situation referring to it as “a form of modern day slavery”. Many of the hundred thousands of workers in Dubai are lured there with the promise of good pay and arrive to find they are paid in accordance with their home countries low wages. The clip highlights another dark aspect of immigrant worker life: employers withholding paychecks and passports from employers, in effect trapping them in the country and homeless.[4]

For those workers who retain their jobs, a third of them live in worker camps at least 20 miles away from the city and their job.[5] As mentioned in the transportation blog, they are shuttled back and forth in private buses to limit their exposure to the rest of Dubai. The video clip shows the terrible conditions many workers live in at the camps, with anywhere between 4-8 men sharing a small room.[6] The government makes it extremely difficult to document these situations however the Human Rights Watch and other groups have been able to expose the dire conditions.[7]

The worker camps of Dubai are possibly the equivalent of the informal settlements of Abuja, Brasilia or Caracas. In those cities, the slum dwellers are the lower class of the native population who are consistently pushed out to the periphery or faced with the fear of their home being razed. Dubai’s “slums” consist of immigrants who they control via immigration laws and are more so placed out in the periphery rather than pushed. The government has built these worker camps, unlike the informal settlements of Abuja that the government continuously demolishes. Rather, in Dubai they are starting to construct “low-cost” shopping malls and health centers, creating miniature cities for the migrant workers to further isolate them from the city.[8] In any of the case studies, it is apparent that these medium-sized cities need to come to accepting terms with the lower-class, as they play a large role in the overall population. Dubai will not be able to maintain its temporary worker situation forever, especially if the number of workers continues to rise.


[1] “Dubai”

[2] Yasser Elsheshtawy, Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle (New York: Routledge, 2010) 214-16.

[3] Yasser Elsheshtawy. 216.

[4] “Conditions of Dubai’s Immigrant Works Highlighted”

[5] Yasser Elsheshtawy. 214.

[6] “Conditions of Dubai’s Immigrant Works Highlighted”

[7] “Conditions of Dubai’s Immigrant Works Highlighted”

[8] Yasser Elsheshtawy. 187.

Works Cited

“Dubai.” Wikipedia. n.p., 20 Oct 2011. Web. 21 Oct 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai&gt;

Elsheshtawy, Yasser. Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle. New York: Routledge, 2010

“Conditions of Dubai’s Immigrant Works Highlighted”. BBC World News – Middle East. 20 Jan 2011. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12246979&gt;


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s