The country’s lockdown measures, including the temporary closure of hotels, have left many migrant workers out of work. Although UAE authorities have allowed repatriation flights to take place, many countries have refused to allow their own nationals to return. Migrant workers in the UAE also have higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, mainly due to their living conditions in labour camps and the impossibility of maintaining social distancing.
After demonstrations outside the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate in Dubai, the UAE government released 400 Pakistani prisoners in mid-April. These individuals had been jailed for minor offences and were repatriated on special flights. This measure was taken considering the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) subsequently called on UAE authorities to “release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, particularly those held beyond their release dates and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which prisoners remain one of the most vulnerable groups of people to the disease.”
Human Rights Watch denounced the poor conditions in UAE prisons on 10 June, calling authorities to reduce prison populations to allow for social distancing.
The director general of correctional institutions announced on 24 May the release of some inmates in Dubai’s main prison, in order to reduce the population during the COVID-19 outbreak. He confirmed that since the beginning of the pandemic, there are around 35 per cent fewer prisoners in the prison.
Other protests were organized in early May by young migrants, in a labour camp near Abu Dhabi. Many have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and did not receive the payment of their wages.
- Outlook India, “UAE Releases 400 Pakistani Prisoners In View Of Virus Outbreak,” 15 April 2020, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/uae-releases-400-pakistani-prisoners-in-view-of-virus-outbreak/1803184
- The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates, “Indefinite Detention: UAE Authorities Detain Prisoners Beyond Their Sentence,” 24 April 2020, http://www.icfuae.org.uk/press-releases/indefinite-detention-uae-authorities-detain-prisoners-beyond-their-sentence
- Asia News It, “Migrant Workers In The Gulf Left Without Wages And At Risk Of COVID-19,” 6 May 2020, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Migrant-workers-in-the-Gulf-left-without-wages-and-at-risk-of-COVID-19-50274.html
- The National, “Coronavirus: Dubai’s Main Prison Frees Hundreds To Reduce Population,” 25 May 2020, https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/coronavirus-dubai-s-main-prison-frees-hundreds-to-reduce-population-1.1024244#7
- K. McQue, “’I’m Trapped’: The UAE Migrant Workers Left Stranded By Covid-19 Job Losses,” The Guardian, 20 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/20/im-trapped-the-uae-migrant-workers-left-stranded-by-covid-19-job-losses
- Human Rights Watch, “UAE: Reported Covid-19 Prison Outbreaks,” 10 June 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/10/uae-reported-covid-19-prison-outbreaks
- Prisoners Reading inside the Dubai’s Central Prison Library, (Giuseppe Cacace, AFP, “Coronavirus: Dubai’s Main Prison Frees Hundreds to Reduce Population,” The National, 24 May 2020, https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/coronavirus-dubai-s-main-prison-frees-hundreds-to-reduce-population-1.1024244#5)