Geneva, London – Evidence released today from Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor and ImpACT International documents widespread state-sponsored violations of human rights on African migrant workers in the UAE.  

The report, entitled "They told us that they hated black Africans," was based on about 100 interviews with migrant workers from Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda. More than 20 of the interviewed workers confirmed that the authorities carried out a massive campaign of arrests on the 24 and 25 June against about 800 African workers in the country. The workers said the attacks were planned, targeted and racially motivated.  

   The UAE has 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.   

Michela Pugliese, Refugee and Migrant Rights Assistant at Euro-Med Monitor

Victims estimate at least 800 workers 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 targeted arrests and deportations are ongoing across the Emirati’s, as more testimonials of victims emerge daily. 

The night of the arrests 

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

Testimonies report authorities destroying CCTV and Wi-Fi, before breaking into homes, destroying property and tasering and arresting individuals without charge.  
Individuals were forced from their homes, some in their underwear, permitted to take with them only their passports. During the raid authorities 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. 

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 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.  

Kenneth Rubangakene, a teacher from Uganda who spent 38 days in al-Wathba prison, said:  “We were brutally prosecuted on the basis of skin colour. The police told us: we will not allow any of you to remain in the streets of Abu Dhabi. They told us that we stink. In prison stripped us naked. They laughed at us and confiscated our belongings.  

“They wouldn’t tell me why I was being arrested and made us sign legal papers in Arabic that we did not understand. I was terrified and angry.” he continued.

“They threatened us with electric shocks and fed us only Arabic bread and rice. I saw someone shocked and beaten when he refused to comply with the demands of the authorities.” 

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

Following 5 weeks of imprisonment, the African nationals began to be deported from the UAE. They were boarded on commercial flights, for which the UAE authorities faked Covid-19 tests. 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 has 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.

“Make no mistake, this was a racially motivated mass human rights violation. And it’s continuing within the UAE right now.”

“There is a dire need to bring justice to the victims. Equally so, it signals the urgent need to acknowledge and address the systemic racism in the country that has given way to such abhorrent and shocking treatment of human beings.” she added.

Legal analysis finds that the nine potential human rights violated are:  

  • Excessive use of force 
  • Sexual harassment 
  • Racial discrimination and insults 
  • Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments 
  • Lack of due legal process and denial of access to lawyers 
  • Physical and psychological torture 
  • Denial of health care 
  • Confiscation of personal property 
  • Forced deportation 

Euro-Med Monitor and ImpACT international are calling for the immediate release of those still detained. The organisation urges an investigation under the supervision of the United Nations’ Special Raconteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, to examine UAE policies dealing with workers residing within its territory, to stop all arbitrary and illegal measures against them, and to hold perpetrators of illegal and unjustified detention and deportation accountable. 

Background

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor:  

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor is a youth- led independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for the human rights of all persons across Europe and the MENA region, particularly those who live under occupation, in the throes of war or political unrest and/ or have been displaced due to persecution or armed conflict. 
Euro-Med Monitor was established in November 2011 and is registered in Switzerland where it maintains its official headquarters.  

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies: 

ImpACT International is a nongovernmental think-tank based in London, United Kingdom concerned with policies at the intersection of states and businesses. It monitors and delivers technical advice on human rights to governments, international bodies, national institutions, and influential corporations. 

UAE RIGHTS VIOLATIONS 

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. 

Full Report in English
Full Report in Arabic