ON June 24 and 25 this year, authorities in the UAE kidnapped, illegally detained and tortured over 800 African migrant workers before their mass deportation, according to a report by Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and London-based think tank ImpACT International.
The report, compiling witness testimonies from over 20 victims, concluded that the attacks were planned, targeted and racially motivated.
Victims estimated 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 or work permits.
The targeted arrests and deportations are ongoing across the Emirati’s, as more testimonials of victims emerge daily, according to the report.
It said that Emirati Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) raided five residential buildings in Abu Dhabi known to house African nationals in the early hours of the relevant two days in June.
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, and permitted to take only their passports with them.
During the raid authorities were said to have 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 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.
After five weeks of imprisonment, the UAE authorities began departing the African nationals.
They were placed on commercial flights, for which the UAE authorities faked Covid-19 tests, according to the report by the two NGOs.
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 were to no avail.
In recent days, victims have reported viewing their jobs advertised online now restricted to Asian-only nationality.
‘UAE have violated nine of its international human rights obligations enshrined in its constitution,” said Michela Pugliese, Migration Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, a youth- led non-governmental human rights organisation focusing on Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
‘But more importantly, they’ve also destroyed the lives and livelihoods of over 800 individuals
‘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.’ Pugliese added.
Euro-Med Monitor and ImpACT international are calling for the immediate release of those still detained.
They want the office of the UN 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.
The UAE has a well-documented history of restricting and exploiting migrant workers’ rights, despite foreign workers making up 95 per cent 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 the UAE authorities.
For African nationals, this has been exacerbated by routine racism and the discriminatory measures they were subjected to under the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.