NIGERIANS residing in the United Arab Emirates have raised a public outcry over a restrictive labour policy that bars them from getting employed, leaving hundreds without means of livelihood, homeless and hungry.
The new policy, which prohibits Nigerians from getting work permits that will enable them live decently, goes against Sustainable Development Goals One, Two, Three, Eight and 10 which bother on poverty, hunger, good health and wellbeing, decent work and reduced inequalities respectively.
Since early July, Nigerians in the UAE have been saying that they are being victimised solely on account of their nationality and more than 300 persons have lost their jobs as they are not granted work permits by the country’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MORHE) in charge of regulating labour affairs.
Those affected include those who have lived and worked in the country for years but whose work permits expired after July, and others seeking to relocate to the UAE for employment.
Jobless after working for seven years
One of the victims, who did not want to be named for fear of further victimisation, told The ICIR that he had lived in the UAE peacefully for over seven years and had never been involved in any criminal activity.
After toiling for these years for wages that were not commensurate to the 14 hours (on the average) he had to put in daily on the available jobs, he landed his dream job in answer to his prayers during the last Ramadan.
“I was so happy and grateful to God, believing that my life had changed but the company applied for my work permit issuance from the Ministry of Labour and it was stated that because I’m a Nigerian, I’m not eligible for work permit,” he narrated.
“Hundreds of people are losing their jobs daily. People are homeless. I don’t even know how I will get money to pay my house rent. I’m so depressed and I have children (back in Nigeria) whom I have not sent money to since June,” he said.
A sample of the rejection message received by Nigerians seeking to renew their work permits.
When translated to English, the encircled part of the document above states that “this nationality is not allowed to apply for permit.”
He later received a message from the company stating that his offer of employment had been withdrawn as they were unable to hire Nigerian candidates due to work permit restrictions for the nationality.
“We have been following the guidelines from the government to be able to hire our employees as per the law, as Nigerians’ work permits are not allowed in MOHRE as well as the visas by immigration departments..,” part of the letter read.
A fruitless journey to the UAE
Chabor Oghenevwede Angus and a friend who both reside in Nigeria received an employment offer from a company in the UAE on July 7 and were excited about the prospect of relocating to the country.
Unaware of the government’s ban on work permits for Nigerians, the company processed all their employment documents and flew them into the country through Ghana, as direct flights between Nigeria and the UAE had been suspended since March.
He said they arrived in Dubai on July 28 and proceeded for their compulsory medical examination, induction and trainings. However, at the final stage of confirming their employment which involved getting work permit approvals from MOHRE, they were denied.
“After all they tried to do to see that we continued with our job, it proved abortive and the company was left with no choice than to send us back to Nigeria. We returned on Augusts 12. This is really happening, it’s not a fluke,” Angus told The ICIR.
Other victims share their experiences
Another anonymous victim who spoke to this newspaper said: “I don’t know when this ban will be lifted because seriously this is just unfair. I have just been told by the owner of my company that no Visa renewal for Nigerians and I have not saved enough. My last hope is to work in Expo 2020”.
Fredrick Adams (not real names) said he had no family in the UAE and had been unable to renew his contract after it expired on July 26 owing to the work permit dilemma. He called on the Nigerian government to come to the aid of its citizens that were stranded in the Middle East country.
Hillary Ejiofor is grateful to still have a job as his work permit is still valid, yet he is extremely concerned about the wellbeing of his Nigerian brothers and sisters and is calling for help for the many rendered homeless.
“Some of us here are suffering for what we don’t know about because even if another country like Uganda, Cameroon commit any offence here, they will tag it Nigeria…Many people who lost their jobs have now been rendered homeless and are unable to feed. We are calling for help because Nigerians here are suffering,” he told this newspaper.
Our findings show that this work permit restriction does not apply to Nigerians working in free-zone areas as they do not require work permits to get their Employment Visas from immigration.
However, the majority of companies in the UAE are in areas designated ‘mainland’ and come under the Ministry of Labour which must issue work permits before Employment Visas are issued.
Seeing that companies are now wary of accepting Nigerian citizens, some recruitment agents have begun to reflect this ‘No Nigerian Accepted’ position in their job adverts, as seen by The ICIR.
Appeal for restoration of friendly diplomatic relations
Last Wednesday, the umbrella body of Nigerians in the UAE (NIDO-UAE) sent a passionate appeal to their host country to rescind its position and restore friendly diplomatic relations with Nigeria.
However, the UAE officially maintains a non-discriminatory position and claims that it has not placed any restriction on Nigerians, even though unofficial sources have attributed the ban to the criminal activities of some Nigerians in the country.
“It’s unfortunate that innocent Nigerians who are the (Black) majority in the UAE are passing through hard times despite being hard working, focused, committed and determined to excel in there various legitimate occupation careers,” a Nigerian resident in the UAE Nkechi Obiora said.
She urged the UAE government to safeguard the jobs of honest, hardworking and sincere Nigerians working tirelessly to contribute positively to the economy of the country.
Some other Nigerians who spoke with The ICIR, argued that they had taken the fall for crimes committed by other black nationalities.
Emmanuel Ugochukwu said: “It is true that a few Nigerians are not representing us well but the UAE is also tagging every black person Nigerian, which is not the case. Other people would commit crimes and they would say it is Nigerians that have done it. This makes it very tough for us here.”
Nonetheless, it would appear that the work permit restriction on Nigerians may not be unconnected with the flight ban the Nigerian government placed on Emirates, the UAE national carrier, over disagreement arising from COVID-19 testing.
Nigerian government’s position
Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika explained that the UAE introduced a COVID-19 protocol that was not backed by science and tended to target only Nigerians.
“For the sake of the international convention, we cannot be discriminated against,” Sirika said.
Addressing world leaders at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA76) in New York, United States, last Friday, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari stressed the urgent need to sustain efforts geared towards rooting out racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related intolerance.
“In the past, racism oiled the machine of slavery and colonialism. Today, racism drives hate crimes and institutional discrimination. In all this, Africans and people of African descent are among the major victims,” Buhari said.
The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) has mandated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aviation to work together to resolve the lingering diplomatic crisis between both countries.
As Dubai prepares to host the World Expo 2020 for 180 days, starting on October 1, Nigerians in the UAE are hoping they would be able to leverage on the potential opportunities the event would bring, but only if both countries reach a compromise.