DUBAI — The city of Dubai is inarguably one of the most prosperous cities in the world. Located on the northeastern coastline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai has become the Middle East’s global business center and its richest city.
Over the last 20 years, the UAE’s GDP has exploded, with today’s figure currently at over three times that of the year 2000, according to the World Bank.
In terms of GDP per capita, the figures are even better. According to the CIA World Factbook, the UAE is ranked 14th in the world at $67,700 per capita. For comparison’s sake, keep in mind that the United States is ranked 20th.
To be clear, a high majority of this wealth increase is attributed to the oil industry. The Embassy of the UAE to the United States states that the UAE’s oil reserves, the seventh largest in the world, account for approximately 25 percent of its total GDP.
Much of this money has been invested in the development of Dubai, though, which is now the UAE’s largest city. The reason for this has been due primarily to the volatility of international oil markets. As the UAE looks to lessen its reliance on oil exports, it is transitioning its economy into one that is based on knowledge and technology. Dubai, therefore, is flush with funds, and with GDP growth expected to be between 3.5 and 4 percent this year, the city’s revenues are skyrocketing.
But what about poverty in Dubai? This is a subject that is rarely discussed due to the fact that Dubai is so abundantly prosperous. To the naked eye, it would seem that there is little to no poverty in Dubai since the city’s economy is based on tourism, real estate and the financial sector. In theory, this should mean that there are more than enough jobs for the local citizenry.
And this is not necessarily a false assessment. As of 2015, the Dubai Statistics Center claimed that the city’s unemployment rate was 0.3 percent, the lowest in the world. There are, as a result, plenty of job opportunities in the city. According to the same Dubai Statistics Center report, the unemployment for expatriates in the city was even lower at 0.19 percent.
It is therefore misleading to think of poverty in Dubai in terms of unemployment. The city has such a large need for labor that upwards of 90 percent of the country’s population is made up of migrant workers, according to the World Population Review. These jobs for migrant workers, however, are where attention needs focusing.
Poverty in Dubai isn’t demonstrated in homelessness and joblessness, but rather in the labor conditions of its working class. These people, the high majority of which come from countries like India and Indonesia, travel to Dubai looking to work and send money back home to their families. Many times, they are promised good pay and living conditions, although this is almost never the case.
Upon arriving to Dubai, migrant laborers are generally placed in camps where they share cramped living spaces with a multitude of other people. An interview conducted by VICE News showed how 20 migrant laborers were each paid $19 a day to then turn around and pay $871 a month to rent the single room they all lived in. When you add other living expenses to these workers’ bills, this leaves little-to-no remittances left to be sent home.
The working conditions of the jobs themselves also bring poverty in Dubai into a new light. According to that same VICE News report, the workers interviewed were not allowed to work for another company to get extra pay for fear of their visas being revoked. Additionally, a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch documented that recruiting agents and employers were abusing their workers, saying that “more than two dozen domestic workers told Human Rights Watch that their employers had physically or sexually abused them.”
This is a massive issue facing the UAE, but the good news is that they’re working toward a solution. On May 31 of this year, the Federal National Council of the UAE passed a bill that would guarantee migrant workers a variety of rights, including, among other things, a bona-fide contract and medical insurance.
Measures such as this are steps in the right direction toward reducing and eradicating poverty in Dubai and the rest of the UAE. After Dubai and the UAE have endured a torrent of backlash and negative press over the past few years, they are now under the watch of human rights organizations and national governments from all around the world.
If the country can continue to improve the conditions for its migrant workers, then Dubai can one day truly become the utopian city it so desperately wants to be.
– John Mirandette