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Nigerians in UAE stranded over work permit, visa ban

Members of the Nigerian community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have decried that the strained relationship between both countries is affecting their livelihoods. Some…

Members of the Nigerian community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have decried that the strained relationship between both countries is affecting their livelihoods.

Some of them living in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah told Daily Trust that because of the work permit ban slammed on Nigeria, many of them had lost their jobs; while others were being deprived of better job opportunities.

This, according to them, is in addition to various forms of discrimination facing them in their host country.

They are appealing to the federal government to urgently resolve the diplomatic row with the UAE.

Some analysts, who spoke to Daily Trust, advised them to return home, deploy their talents and develop Nigeria.

They also asked the federal and state governments to make Nigeria’s environments viable and conducive in order to reduce citizens’ desperation for greener pasture abroad.

This is just as the Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, has assured that efforts towards resolving the issues had reached an advanced stage.

Since 2021, Nigeria and the UAE have been embroiled in a diplomatic spat over issues relating to flight allocations and travel bans.

Both countries have embarked on a back-and-forth since the COVID-19 pandemic as they disagreed over travel requirements.

Nigeria, in 2021, suspended Emirates Airlines; and in retaliation, the UAE barred Nigerian travelers from visiting Dubai.

After this was resolved, there was another issue between Emirates and Air Peace, Nigeria’s sole carrier flying to the UAE. In December 2021, Nigeria reduced Emirates’ 21 weekly flights to Nigeria to one for refusing to grant the three slots requested by Air Peace flying to Sharjah. The UAE later backtracked and granted Air Peace seven frequencies to Dubai.

Later in October 2022, Emirates Airlines suspended all flights to Nigeria, citing its $85 million trapped funds.

The UAE authorities followed this with a visa ban on Nigeria alongside Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Burundi, Republic of Guinea, Gambia, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Benin and Ivory Coast.

While the ban on other nations has been lifted, that on Nigeria is yet to be removed.

Last September, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited the UAE for a possible resolution of the issues between both countries. He was also there in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference where he met with the UAE authorities on the lingering issues.


We’re feeling the heat–Nigerians in Dubai

In a teleconference with Daily Trust, some Nigerians living in Dubai complained of hiccups in renewing their visas; while others said they were being discriminated against. There were also stories of those who had lost their jobs.

Babalola Soderu, who resides in Dubai, stated: “In 2023, some of my friends got jobs in my company using the tourist visa, which lasted up to three months with the hope of changing the visa status before the three months expired.

“Towards the end of June, they tried to apply for a visa to no avail. We thought it was a temporary glitch, but it dragged till October and people were left with no option but to return to Nigeria.

“Since early 2022, nobody has got a job in any company or able to process visa.”

Shedrack Iditola said many Nigerians in the UAE had lost their jobs.

“The Emirates’ trapped fund was the cause of this because after some time, there was a total ban on visas. We cannot renew our visas; people in Nigeria cannot come here, and people here are losing their jobs because Nigeria was removed from their system. People can’t even go to the hospital because when you don’t have a valid visa, you’d be scared to go to any government facility.

“We know there are diplomatic issues that the two governments are supposed to handle, but the main issue is the Emirates Airlines’ trapped fund. Nigerians in the UAE are really suffering for this”, he said.

Our correspondent reports that while the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents (NANTA) had backed the claim by the Central Bank of Nigeria that the trapped funds had been cleared, Emirates Airlines has kept mute on the status of the trapped funds.


Over 200 jobs

Enifome Elijah, on her part, said over 200 people had returned to Nigeria after losing their jobs due to the work permit ban. She said more than 50 people in her area lost their jobs because their companies could not renew their permits.

Dickson Okezue said because of the work permit ban, many Nigerians who got good-paying jobs in the UAE were denied the opportunities. Osikoya Nurudeen said the situation had turned many Nigerians into beggars in the UAE.

“The person who facilitated my visa to Dubai is currently in Nigeria because of the visa issue. He is stranded in Nigeria. Nigerians are on the streets begging for money. It’s not easy,” he said.

A leader of Nigerians in the UAE, Citizen Oluwatosin, said many Nigerians, who attended job interviews, were denied the opportunities because of the ban”, Enifome said.

“We plead with the Nigerian government to look into this issue and prioritise the well-being of Nigerians in UAE. We should move from talking to action. Nigerians in the UAE are still in a pandemic. Work is on lockdown, visa is on lockdown.

“We also appeal to the UAE to consider us and look at the fact that Nigerians have been very productive, contributing to the economy of the UAE and working towards achieving the dreams of the founding fathers of UAE in different sectors”, he said.


Discussions ongoing to resolve issues – Minister’s aide

In a chat with Daily Trust, Alkasim Abdulkadir, Special Assistant on Media and Communications Strategy to Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, said discussions had reached an advanced stage to resolve the issues.

“Bilateral discussions between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on visa and flights restrictions are still ongoing. When completed, a joint statement will be issued via official channels,” he said.

There was no comment from the UAE Embassy in Abuja as of press time as an enquiry sent by our correspondent was not replied.


Analysts speak

A public affairs analyst, Professor Gbade Ojo, said Nigerians should strive to survive in their countries.

He said, “If there’s a policy that is anti-Nigerian in any country, it means that country is not a friend of Nigeria. And no matter how friendly a country can be, they have to consider the well-being of their own citizens.

“My advice to Nigerians is that people should slug it out and ensure that they can survive at home, rather than think there is a greener pasture anywhere in the world.”

Prof. Sylvester Odion of Lagos State University, said the UAE could not be blamed for imposing the ban of work permit because it has its national interest to protect.  However, he said it would be difficult to ask Nigerians stranded to return home as that would be tantamount to returning them to unemployment.

Executive Director, PeacePro, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, said foreign nations should not be allowed to disregard Nigeria without consequences.

He also said Nigeria must restore its ability to “reward our friends and make our foe regret being so.”

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