Police in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) carried out a sweeping campaign arbitrarily detaining and deporting at least 375 African migrant workers who were seized from their homes in terrifying night-time raids, taken to prison where they were subjected to degrading treatment and other multiple human rights violations, before being collectively deported without any form of due process, new research from Amnesty International has found.
Hundreds of African nationals were rounded up on the night of 24-25 June 2021 before being arbitrarily detained incommunicado in Al-Wathba prison for up to two months. Emirati police later falsified negative PCR tests for them to travel, stripped them of their belongings, including vital legal documents, and denied them access to legal counsel.
“These African workers were living and working in the UAE legally. This racial targeting caused devastation in the lives of some of the most marginalized members of Emirati society at a time when the UAE government presents itself as a model country for multicultural tolerance as it hosts Dubai Expo 2020,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The authorities have brutalized hundreds of individuals on the basis of their skin colour, ill-treating them in detention, stripping them of their personal possessions and their dignity before deporting them en masse. The UAE must take a clear and public stance that any racist targeting for whatever reason will not be accepted and they must ensure that those who already suffered such treatment be provided with appropriate restitution and redress.”
The UAE must take a clear and public stance that any racist targeting for whatever reason will not be accepted and they must ensure that those who already suffered such treatment be provided with appropriate restitution and redress.Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International
Amnesty International interviewed eight women and 10 men who were arbitrarily deported and expelled from the UAE following the June raids, of which 11 were from Cameroon, five from Nigeria, one from Uganda and one from Ghana. All of them described a pattern of racial targeting in the apprehensions, noting that those rounded up were almost exclusively Black. A few Asian nationals found living in the same flats as the Africans were also arrested.
The Emirati authorities detained them for between 35 and 61 days and summarily deported them without affording them the opportunity to challenge their deportation.
The UAE’s Ministry of Interior issued a statement on 3 September stating arrests of 376 women and men had been carried out “as part of legal procedures to address crimes related to human trafficking.” Yet all interviewees confirmed that that the authorities had not informed them of why they were being held nor had they brought them before judicial authorities to allow them to see and challenge the evidence against them.
However, the African nationals were not given a chance to challenge their deportation as required under international law and due process standards. In detaining and arbitrarily deporting hundreds of African nationals en masse, based on racial targeting and with no legal due process, the UAE violated international law relating to the prohibition of racial discrimination and the prohibition of collective expulsions which carry an inherent risk of refoulement.
Racially driven raids
All those interviewed described the same pattern of racial targeting in the apprehensions. Deported residents of Lagym building said that there were people of various Asian and African nationalities living there, but that security forces had targeted the African residents, and that the handful of South and Southeast Asian residents detained were picked out because they were living with Africans.
The workers interviewed said that Emirati police broke into their homes between 2am and 4am and hauled them off without even allowing them to get properly dressed. They said the police officers, some of whom were identified as being from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), did not allow them to show their residency documents proving that they were in the UAE legally.
Kabirat Olokunde from Nigeria was working as an assistant at an international school when she was deported on 22 August. She said that the police had not allowed her to dress and handcuffed her even though she was wearing her nightclothes. She said: “I was asking them, ‘Why am I here? I’m not a criminal. I have my papers. Why are you bringing me here?’ And they told me, ‘Emirates give, Emirates take.’” She also said police officers molested her. “Those idiots were touching my boobs… I told them, you touch [me] again I will slap you.”
Squalid conditions in detention
The deportees described squalid conditions in Al-Wathba prison, where they were kept in overcrowded, unsanitary halls and denied access to adequate healthcare, before being arbitrarily deported.
Prison authorities separated men and women upon entry, putting each in separate halls.
The women interviewed said up to 220 detainees were held in their part of the prison. There were only four toilets for all of them. All interviewees said they were given no masks and there was no testing for Covid-19 despite the substantial risk of transmission in such a crammed space.
One woman who was pregnant when she was detained said she was denied medication for anaemia and nurses dismissed her complaints of abdominal pain. “I went there three months pregnant, I came back and it was … five months, with no medical attention,” she said. “My weight was 58, 59 [kg] before. I came out, my weight was 51 … It was horrible.”
Legal rights ignored in mass expulsions
Those interviewed said they were not brought before a prosecutor, judge, or court, or given any paperwork to show why they were being held. They also said they were never given the opportunity to consult with a lawyer, nor receive any visitors. All but two said they were not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer. The other two interviewees said after a month in prison the detainees in their rooms were given one chance to make a call if they had a number memorized.
The 18 deportees said they were forcibly returned to their home countries after being stripped of their personal belongings, including clothing, savings, TVs, electronic devices, all kinds of licences and certificates, medical records and in some cases proof of legal identity.
A nurse from Cameroon said: “All my degrees, my diploma, my license, everything remained in the UAE. Our money in the bank – because as we are working, we are investing – our money remains there. Everything. We came [home] with just passports.”
Five interviewees described how Emirati authorities had forged negative Covid-19 PCR test results needed to travel internationally, when in fact they had not been tested for weeks before being deported. Amnesty International inspected three of the false test documents, which were issued on the letterhead of the Abu Dhabi Police General Headquarters and carried no doctor’s signature.
With no legal process and no assessment of individual cases and risks to deportees, the deportations amounted to collective expulsions, which are prohibited under international customary law. Expulsion must be based on an individual assessment, including of the risk of deporting an individual to a country where they are at risk of serious human rights violations. Individuals affected must be informed of the reasons and allowed to challenge lawfulness of their detention and deportation.
“The UAE authorities must investigate this appalling incident in view of providing the victims prompt restitution of their belongings and redress for the shameful treatment they were subjected to prior to their deportation. The UAE is bound by obligations under international customary and treaty law prohibiting racial discrimination and forbidding forcible returns en masse,” said Lynn Maalouf.