The Real Dubai

The place may look fabulous from afar, but so does the Pyramids of Egypt and we know how they were built. Things haven’t changed that much in the Middle East for thousands of years. They still use slave labor. Witness the real Dubai.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means “City of Gold”. In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. “To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell,” he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal’s village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they’d pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don’t like it, the company told him, go home. “But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket,” he said. “Well, then you’d better get to work,” they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

It’s a fascinating article and well worth the read. It covers all aspects of life there.


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  1. Pingback: The Dark Side of Dubai | The Blog of Record

  2. You might want to be careful about those comparisons with the pyramid-building, Hud.

    There’s some archaeological evidence that not all the pyramid-building was done by slaves. In fact, the latest studies suggest that a lot of the builders were paid.

    Egyptologists have found remains of worker towns by the pyramids at Giza.

    The other problem with making assumptions about slave labor vs. paid labor is this — who do you honestly think builds stronger, longer-lasting structures? Think about this even further — who has the INCENTIVE to build something that will hold up longer AND better??

    That’s something that the wealthy elites in Dubai might want to think about.

    I doubt their skyscrapers, let alone their country, will last 5,000 years.

  3. Well, these Dubai workers are paid too. But they are treated like slaves. In the case of the Egyptians, they had a religious reason for building the pyramids, but I wonder what the workers really thought about the Pharaohs

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