A recent post at the UAE Community Blog provided a link to a detailed account of a visiting scholar to Dubai who describes having been surveilled and confronted by five guys in dishdash. His place of residence was thoroughly searched, some belongings confiscated, he then detained, questioned and finally forcibly expelled from country.
The offence? Asking too many questions, it seems, on what was apparently a subject of great sensitivity. The subject? The experiences of those in the UAE who are sometimes called native-expats, e.g. those born of expatriate parents and raised in-country.
Having read the account, I was inspired to examine the issue of deportation in the UAE--not the sort often published in the news of convicted criminal being required to serve sentence then expelled, but of the sort that one occasionally hears talked about in hushed tones. "Did you hear that so and so got picked up..."--the friend of a friend or co-worker who just didn't show up one day, only later to be found to have been deported.
Deportation--it ought to be called the "D" word. There are some, for certain, who would categorically say that "D" is not at all a remote possibility for an expat living here. These are the people who seem to have an innate pessimism about everything. On the other hand, even those of more balanced temperament tend on occasion to point out that one must be on guard about what he says and does.
Until reading that account, my sense was that while it had never happened very much in the UAE in the first place, it was largely becoming a thing of the past. It was also something more likely to happen in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai. I can't say whether or not my view has changed in light of the account, but I am one who tends to possess a naive optimism about such things. Assuming the account is not fictional, however, some of my past assumptions may need to be reconsidered.
The trouble with the whole notion of deportation is that should one be fingered, he or she will have little recourse. The writer of the account seems to have been among the lucky, having had a bit of wasta to fall back on in the form of help from the US embassy. Being more a visitor than a working expat or migrant he also had very little at stake, although a wife and infant might have come into harms way. He rather boasted of being unafraid throughout the ordeal. The typical expat would have a lot more to lose and much less in the way of diplomatic support. One, like myself, who has invested years and both material and emotional commitment to living in the UAE would have a much harder time bearing the threat of deportation.
A reader who posted a comment to the blog which hosted the account offered that such things happen everywhere. So true. No expat in any country is immune to the risk. Pre-9/11 USA, for example, may have been an unlikely venue for a visitor or resident expat to be summarily picked up, cast into a state of limbo and then deported, but that is obviously no longer the case. One might argue as well that it is clearly within any nation's prerogative and part of its duty, in fact, to deport any individual it perceives as a threat to its national interest. But such a prerogative or duty is so susceptible to abuse.
Is deportation in the UAE the "D" word? Is it a demon that lurks in the shadows of every expat's conscience? Is it the elephant in the room that no one dares to acknowledge? That startling account is perhaps only anecdotal. On the other hand, it could be indicative of an unpleasant reality that continues to be a threat to many an expat or visitor, even as Dubai presents itself to the world as an oasis of liberalism in the Middle East.
Open a printable copy, in a new window.
(As a brief afterward, I must vent a bit of frustration that fellow bloggers or writers of any ilk will have experienced at one time or another. After having composed a wonderfully succinct, 500-word piece on the topic at hand, the electricity suddenly went out, and all was lost. My disillusionment was compounded by the fact that it was one of those rare occasions when, without much deliberation on my part, the words just flowed and the piece came to be composed, edited, proofread and readied for publishing all in the span of less than an hour. I subsequently set out to reconstitute my thoughts, but without even the slightest hope of crafting a discourse as worthy as the first.)
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