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05 July 2022 – United Arab Emirates

Two Women Handcuffed Before Being Moved to a Separate Cell in al-Wathba Prison (,
Two Women Handcuffed Before Being Moved to a Separate Cell in al-Wathba Prison (, "We Cried and Begged," 22 September 2021,

In June, the Global Detention Project (GDP) and issued a joint submission to the Committee against Torture concerning issues related to immigration detention in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The submission highlights prolonged detention periods, poor detention conditions, as well as instances of deportation without recourse to legal remedies. The GDP and encouraged the Committee to make several recommendations, including: (a) the provision of “public statistics on the practice, scope and conditions of immigration detention, including information about the sites of detention used for migration-related detention purposes as well as annual data on the numbers of people detained for migration-related reasons…”; (b) “ensuring that detention is maintained for the shortest time possible”; (c) “improve conditions of detention, including by eliminating overcrowding in detention sites, ensuring access to medical care, medicines, and hygiene products…”; (d) “ensure that each detention order is regularly and automatically reviewed by a judicial organ”; and (e) “ensure non-discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnic origin, with respect to decisions to detain and deport.”

This submission comes as renewed focus has been put on the deportation campaigns waged by numerous Gulf states since international flights resumed in late 2021. The UAE has drawn particular scrutiny. According to, towards the end of 2021, the UAE deported thousands of undocumented migrant workers withouth providing any judicial review of the procedures. This led to many being forcibly returned despite credible threats of violence in their home countries. Detained migrants alleged that in order to facilitate their deportations, authorities falsified their COVID-19 tests. Many of the deportees said they lost out on unpaid wages as well as their savings.

In mid-2021, authorities conducted several raids on apartments housing African migrant workers, rounding up around 800 people, primarily from Uganda, Nigeria, and Cameroon, and placed them in buses without any explanation. Many of these migrant workers reportedly had valid residency status in the country. Authorities claimed the workers were involved with “prostitution networks, human trafficking, indecent acts, extortion, and assault.” One of the migrants told that he was detained for two months in terrible conditions at the al-Wathba prison. He said that 62 people were held in a single cell, without any hygiene products or new clothes being provided, they were only given dirty tap water, and were forced to compete over a handful of panadol instead of actual medical care. All their personal belongings were confiscated and they were not allowed to contact their families. Cameroon’s consul-general in Dubai said that several requests for information concerning the situation of the detained migrant workers were ignored and that he was not permitted entry into the al-Wathba prison.

The government does not release statistics on prison demographics and capacity, and non-governmental organisations are not authorised to visit prisons and report on conditions. In January 2022, the Global Detention Project and issued a joint information request for the Ministry of the Interior and the Human Rights Office of the Justice Department asking for information about the numbers of people detained and deported for migration-related reasons in recent years, as well as an up-to-date list of facilities used for this purpose. As of this writing however, we have not received any responses to our requests.

According to UNHCR data, there were 1,315 refugees and 7,229 asylum seekers in the country in 2020 and in 2021, there were 1,355 refugees and 7,203 asylum seekers. Nonetheless, the country has not yet ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and has also failed to implement a transparent or codified system for providing protection to asylum seekers or refugees.

While the country began a national vaccination campaign in December 2020, offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to all citizens and residents, it remains unclear whether undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons are included in the campaign. Nonetheless, the Indonesian embassy reported that in cooperation with the Government of the UAE, a plan to vaccinate documented and undocumented Indonesian Workers had been agreed in June 2021. The GDP has nonetheless been unable to obtain any further information regarding the country’s vaccination campaign.