Dubai arrested more than 7,785 undocumented immigrants last year in a series of “inspection campaigns,” according to the head of the emirate’s immigration department, reported the Gulf news site Emirates 24/7. The inspections by the directorate also yielded some 1,100 fake documents, in a widening crackdown on illegal immigration by authorities in Dubai.
The arrests were revealed in a press conference held by the director of Dubai’s naturalization and residency directorate, Mohammed Al Marri, who said the number of arrests was expected to increase in the coming year. He added that the campaign by his department had resulted in an “increase in awareness level” about immigration in Dubai as well as a drop in complaints from employers about employees leaving work abruptly, said the Emirates news site this week.
The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, have long been a popular destination for labor migrants, with migrant workers making up an estimated 90 percent of the country’s labor force, according to the U.K.-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights. The migrant labor population, the majority of which comes from South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, has been responsible for boosting economic growth in the Gulf economic powerhouse over the past four decades. However, Dubai’s government has been criticized for its immigration system, which rights activists say is responsible for widespread labor abuses, including wage exploitation and debt bondage to employers.
While the UAE has taken modest steps toward reforming its immigration system, the government’s focus in the aftermath of the global economic crisis has been on cracking down on illegal workers, according to a report from the global intelligence company Stratfor. The government's fear that foreign workers living illegally in the country could pose a security threat is the underlying rationale for the growing crackdown on undocumented workers. In a press conference last September, a top Dubai immigration official linked the crackdown to an effort to promote “a sense of security in the community.” “We will not tolerate areas of Dubai becoming areas where illegals are concentrated,” said Col. Khalah Ahmad Al Gaith in remarks reported by Gulf News.