Homelessness in the United Arab EmiratesThe United Arab Emirates’s economy has taken a severe downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of workers homeless. Those most vulnerable include migrant workers from India, The Philippines and Sri Lanka who cannot afford to return to their home countries. Concerned individuals are helping migrant workers facing homelessness in the United Arab Emirates.

COVID-19, Job losses and Poverty

Heavily influenced by COVID-19 and lockdown rules, The United Arab Emirates’s economy reduced by 6.1% in 2020 alone, leading to significant job losses nationwide. Furthermore, unemployment hit 5%, an all-time high for the country. The true state of poverty in the UAE is unclear as there is little data on official poverty statistics, with many sources reporting a zero poverty rate, which many believe to be inaccurate considering the incidences of homelessness in the United Arab Emirates.

Homelessness Among Migrant Workers

Every year, people from nearby countries flock to Dubai for work using work or tourist visas, many of which expired during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Unable to afford housing outside of work accommodation, thousands of workers from India, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and other nearby countries have found themselves facing homelessness in the United Arab Emirates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the UAE government “offered an amnesty” for fines issued for overstaying visas, many migrant workers are still struggling without any options. Purchasing an airline ticket home remains out of budget for many and the UAE has been slow to repatriate as the capacity for quarantine centers is limited, causing many to remain homeless in the UAE. The parks below towering skyscrapers have become the temporary homes of migrant workers with nowhere to sleep.

In Satwa, a neighborhood in Dubai, only 25% of migrants still hold jobs and can afford to rent a room. Up to 750 workers who defaulted on their rent now sleep in public parks and parking lots. Furthermore, these newly homeless people are often turned away from restaurants, service shops and other public places due to COVID-19 restrictions.

While the UAE does not keep track of unemployed migrants, the Phillippine Consulate in Dubai estimates that 30,000 Filipinos are now facing unemployment, potentially facing homelessness in the United Arab Emirates at the same time. The Consul General of Sri Lanka reported that a third of all homeless Sri Lankans are yet to be repatriated, leaving 6,000 without shelter or hope of getting home.

Communities Help Migrant Workers

Where the government has been slow to address the issue of homelessness in the United Arab Emirates, some citizens are taking it upon themselves to help people return home despite complications. Due to the UAE’s “strict laws on fundraising,” flights can only be purchased by one donor.

One concerned and compassionate woman, Mahnaz Fakih, has found ways around these laws, searching for donors to sponsor flights. She, in total, has helped around 700 displaced people get home, “including a group of 13 pregnant women from Sri Lanka and Ghana.” Fakih herself has purchased 20 airline tickets and continues to coordinate flights.

While the UAE government has provided no recent updates regarding its plan to fully repatriate the displaced homeless population, the efforts by the local community are significant and inspiring.

– Caroline Bersch