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Untold stories of Nigerians ‘stranded’ in UAE

“When you get a job in the UAE, it is the rule for the company to give you a two-year visa, but the visa has…

“I am in a fix. My visa has expired and I can’t renew it. My job is gone. Life is hell in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for Nigerians now,” said a Nigerian who has been living and working in the gulf nation for three years until the recent diplomatic row between it and Nigeria put his survival on the line.

Also, a graduate of Mass Communication from Kaduna Polytechnic, Innocent Idache, relocated to the UAE after his inability to gain employment in Nigeria for almost a decade. Fortune smiled at him and he got himself a job at a construction company in the UAE in 2018.

He has been the pillar of support to his family and friends back home in Nigeria since then. He has been contributing hugely to the billions of naira remittances that come to Nigeria yearly since then.

However, his survival is now being threatened following the decision of the Arab country to stop issuing visas to Nigerians. Companies in the country have also been instructed not to employ Nigerians, a situation that has put thousands of Nigerians’ lives on the line.

Idache is planning to send his wife back home while he continues to struggle for survival in the foreign land.

Another Nigerian who simply gave his name as Bobby said he may incur huge debts in fines if the federal government of Nigeria does not find a way to resolve its issues with the government of the UAE on time.

The issues

For close to two years, the UAE and Nigeria have been entangled in a series of diplomatic battles but it got to a new height recently when the gulf country stopped issuing visas and work permits to Nigerians.

In July 2021, an official at the Ministry of Labour in the UAE confirmed that work permits were being regulated in view of precautionary and preventive measures for COVID-19, but the action seems to be targeted at Nigerians only.

The ministry governs all work-related issues and is responsible for issuing work permits (labour cards) and imposing labour bans.

Stranded Nigerians in Dubai

 

In December 2020, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Nigeria and the UAE to provide a platform for both countries to engage each other bilaterally.

However, in February 2021, the Federal Government of Nigeria stopped the UAE national carrier, Emirates Airline, from subjecting Nigerian travellers to additional rapid antigen tests as against its stipulated negative PCR test at the Lagos and Abuja airports before departure.

The Emirates Airline then shut down flights to and from Nigeria owing to the disagreement between it and the aviation authorities on the propriety of subjecting passengers travelling from Nigeria to an emergency COVID-19 protocol.

After an interface between the authorities of the aviation ministry and Emirates Airline, flights resumed, but the airline continued to conduct tests for passengers before departure from Nigeria, a development the federal government frowned at and thus suspended the airline from flying in Nigeria.

The UAE responded by refusing to renew Nigerians’ work permits, which offends the letters of bilateral agreements to which both countries are signatories to.

This was viewed as a calculated attempt to pressure the Nigerian government into accepting their conditions of service for their national airline that may have lost humongous revenue from the Nigerian route.

The disagreement was, however, resolved, but it is believed that there was still bad blood between the two countries, and when some Nigerians in the UAE got involved in criminal activities, it was very easy for the golf country to wield the big stick again.

It was also reported that some Nigerians were involved in cultism in the Arab country, disturbing public peace in the process.

According to unofficial sources, some Nigerian cultists in Sharjah got into a bloody fight that left more than a dozen people dead.

A footage circulated online showed some men armed with machetes arriving at an apartment in Sharjah, where they forcefully gained entry and attacked its occupants.

Stranded Nigerians

On October 23, 2022, the Nigerian government, through the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), announced that a total of 542 stranded Nigerians were evacuated from the UAE.

The commission said via its official Twitter handle, @nidcom_gov that: “A total of 542 stranded Nigerians in the United Arab Emirates evacuated by the federal government arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on board the @MaxAirLtd Charted flight.

“The plane touched down at 4:29am on October 23, 2022. The evacuees consisted of 79 males, 460 females and three infants,” the Nigerian government stated.

Daily Trust Saturday, however, gathered that those evacuated were just a very small fraction of stranded Nigerians in that country.

Idache, who has been living in Abu Dhabi for four years, told our reporter that, “The situation is very terrible in Abu Dhabi where I reside. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and it is a very sensitive environment.

“I can tell you for sure that of all Nigerians living in this city, only a few are with valid visas and work permits. Nigerians are being denied the necessary residential documents. There is nowhere you will go that you will be accepted.

“Even when there is a vacancy in a particular company, for instance, they will specifically tell you that they don’t need Nigerians. They will say, ‘All nationalities can apply except Nigerians. We don’t need Nigerians.”

“From what I know, the companies are only obeying instructions. This is a country whose policing is top-notch. If they give instruction and you go against it, the fine that would be allotted to you would be so big that you won’t want to fall victim to it.

“One of the major reasons the ban is on Nigerians is because of a section of boys parading as cultists and displaying some notorious acts by fighting and disturbing the public.”

While agreeing that some Nigerians were found wanting, he argued that their behaviours should not be used as a rubber blanket for every Nigerian in the UAE, adding that many Nigerians are law-abiding and working hard to earn legitimately to cater for their families back home.

Bobby, who moved to Dubai with his fiancée for a greener pasture is not finding it easy as well.

He told Daily Trust Saturday that when he arrived in Dubai he applied for over 200 jobs before eventually getting one, unlike other nationalities in the UAE.

“My girlfriend got five offer letters but she couldn’t proceed with the job because of visa issues,” he said.

He said the racism in Dubai was intense, adding that they easily profile Nigerians and link them to any crime committed by blacks in the city.

“Being an African, especially a Nigerian, there are struggles you have to go through to survive.

“It is difficult to get a job because you are a Nigerian. And even if you do, it is going to be with hard labour and low pay.

“It is difficult to get accommodation as an African. Only a few landlords give their accommodations to Africans, and most of them are very bad and with poor facilities.

“Currently, I am working with an American institute in Dubai as an admission officer/sales representative. I have been working for five months now.

“When you get a job in the UAE, it is the rule for the company to give you a two-year visa, but the visa has been banned for Nigerians.

“So, it is not possible for you to get a work visa issued by the company. What most companies do now is to go for a three-month renewal visa, but that is also banned for Nigerians, both in the country and outside the country.

“The last option is the three-year partnership visa, which the company took upon itself to do for me based on the value I am adding to it. They started the process, and along the line, after getting my trade licence and all the necessary documents, the Dubai government has restricted approval on the residence visa, which currently makes me be in an ‘overstay’ situation, which has been reading for the past one month because my visa expired in September,” he said.

Bobby said Nigerians were being milked dry by the government of Dubai as a result of heavy fines imposed on them because of overstay.

“In overstay, you get charged. On the first day, you get charged 100 Dirham, which is around N20,000, and it keeps increasing.

“On October 3, the Dubai government said it was going to bring in new visa upgrades and we thought it was going to be better for us and we would be free from all these visa issues, but it became worse.

“The only good thing they did was to slash the overstay charges. At the time, I had about 2,500 overstay, which was close to N500,000, but they slashed it to 1,000, which is approximately N2000. So, as at now, I am close to half a million naira charge, if not more,” Bobby added.

He said there were many limitations to working in an overstay situation, adding, “You can’t open an account, you can’t get things online, you always need to have cash.”

Idache further said, “The situation is terrible. My visa expired last month. After the expiration of a visa you are given a two-month grace period to search for another job.

“My grace period will soon be over and I am as confused as any other person in the UAE now without a job.”

He also said that all these notwithstanding, Nigerians were not willing to return home, adding, “Most people have spent their money feeding and paying bills, hoping that the issues would be resolved soon.

“Most people will not even have the money to pay for the overstay fines. For each day you stay out of the visa period, you are paying 50 Dirham, which is around N9,000 to N10,000. A person who has been here a month after his visa period will be owing a very huge amount.”

Idache, who hails from Benue State, expressed dismay that the Nigerian Mission in the UAE had abandoned them.

“The Nigerian embassy is not a place to seek help as far as this situation is concerned. They will not even give you a listening ear or access to the embassy.

“Immediately they notice that you are coming to complain, they will send you out. It is the last place to go. That is the situation we have found ourselves.

“We are pleading with the federal government to come to our aid. Very soon you will be hearing that Nigerians are committing suicide here because the situation is terrible.

“The danger of it is that when you harm a man to an extent and there is no escape route for him, the next bet will be to resort to crime.

“For me, survival has been difficult and I have no plans than to send my wife back home so that I can struggle to see how I would join her soon,” he said.

He condemned the decision of the federal government to repatriate Nigerians, saying that is not the solution.

“Do they have a job waiting for them (repatriated Nigerians”? The government is just complicating the situation instead of resolving issues with the UAE,” he added.

On his part, Bobby said, “This visa issue is causing depression for a lot of Nigerians here. Without a visa you can’t get a job, and without a job you don’t have money, and without money you can’t get accommodation.”

We are responding – FG

All efforts by Daily Trust Saturday to get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to comment on what the government is doing about the situation of Nigerians in the UAE proved abortive as the spokesperson of the ministry, Franca Omayuli, was not in office when our reporter visited. She also did not pick up her call when our correspondent called her known mobile line.

However, the chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had in a statement earlier, advised Nigerians stranded in the UAE to desist from media blackmail.

She explained that the Federal Government of Nigeria had swung into action to ensure that stranded Nigerians in the UAE were repatriated to the country safely.

“Despite several warnings by the Federal Government of Nigeria through its relevant agencies on consequences of illegal migration to the UAE and other countries, it is regrettable that some Nigerians still find themselves as victims of this irregular act,” a statement signed by the agency’s spokesman, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, quoted her as saying.

The statement added, “In line with its citizens diplomacy, the federal government approved the evacuation of over 300 Nigerians stranded in the UAE. Regrettably, many of those affected have not been totally cooperative as they refused to follow the laid down procedures.”

Dabiri-Erewa said that rather than comply with the directives of the Nigerian consulate in Dubai, some Nigerians were busy pursuing a media blackmail against the federal government, as well as the UAE government.

She added that the allegation that Nigerians were abandoned in Dubai is completely untrue and misleading as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Mission had been working assiduously with the UAE authorities to assist Nigerians stranded in the country for various reasons, ranging from overstay, lost passports, lack of documentation, especially in the case of infants, to pending cases with the Emirati Police.

FG needs to do more – Migration experts

However, Mr Jide Olatuyi, the executive director of Policy Consult, Abuja, said repatriation of Nigerians from any country should be the last option for the Nigerian government.

“I think there are other options to be explored by the government before arriving at the option of repatriating migrants.

“You can repatriate when you realise that there is a risk for them to continue staying in that country, in this case, the UAE. They can repatriate them if there is insecurity regarding their lives and property. They can repatriate them when there are emergencies, but if it is just about their statuses, probably changing from being regular migrants to irregular migrants, or maybe there is a need for them to regularise their stay, maybe their work permit has expired and they need to renew, I think there are processes the Nigerian government can take to help them extend or regularise their stay.

“I don’t know the content of the bilateral agreement between Nigeria and the UAE but Nigeria can work towards making the UAE respect the agreement they have with Nigeria. But if there is no bilateral agreement, I think there are channels of diplomacy to explore,” the migration expert said.

While frowning at the news that Nigerians were engaging in cultism and other criminal activities in the UAE, he said Nigerians needed to be law abiding in their country of destination.

“There is no point in you leaving your country for another country to start exhibiting criminal behaviours. If there are situations of infractions when the Nigerians are unable to protect themselves legally, that is where I think the Nigerian Mission in the country should step in. I think that most of the time this is what is usually lacking. This legal protection is lacking and I think that is why we still have this high rate of allegation of crime.”

On his part, Ogaba Ogabidu, the executive director of DevTrain, who is an expert in migration, with an interest in migration data, said to move and find work in other countries was a right of an individual.

He, however, said the Federal Government of Nigeria should ensure that Nigerians migrate and work elsewhere properly, saying irregular migration is a problem worldwide.

Ogabidu said that notwithstanding, Nigerian workers in other countries should be protected.

“Unfortunately, most of the workers who leave Nigeria leave on very spurious and unverifiable circumstances. Sometimes, the recruiters in the UAE give them very beautiful conditions, but once they get there, the rules of engagement change and can be tantamount to slavery and inhumane condition of work.

“Again, the government of Nigeria should see that their workers are protected in the receiving countries.

“To that extent, Nigeria has signed various United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) ratifications on migration. Convention 181, 123, 124 was just passed some weeks ago by the Federal Executive Council, which is protecting migrant workers from Nigeria to other countries,” Ogabidu, who has been working with government agencies in the last 10 years on various policies on migration said.

He also advised Nigerians to follow the proper recruitment channel, urging them to go to the Federal Ministry of Labour when they have an attractive offer, saying that way, the federal government can step in to protect them whenever there are infringements.

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