Pursuing a better life beneath a glamorous surface

Dubai dream

For most people who have heard, read or travelled to Dubai, it is definitely one of the popular “must visit” destinations. Well-known for its tallest building in the world amongst many other glittering skyscrapers, latest model cars, shopping malls, amusement parks and desert safaris, the emirate is a dream for millions fascinated to pay a visit at least once in a lifetime. The fast growing city is an inspiration to everyone with its contemporary architecture, luxury hotels, villas and residences. A walking or cycling tour is just one of the endless leisure opportunities for all residents and tourists alike. A world to dream of and for many, it is also one of the best places to seek employment. Yet, this man-made modern oasis would not exist without expatriates and immigrants, whose dreams for a better life have settled in a fragile glass bubble.


Behind the wall

As the young man walks through the door, he enters a different world, leaving all the attractions and alluring existence behind.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Between two worlds

Two young men walk on the rooftop of the labour camp they reside with the Dubai downtown skyscrapers in the background. Most of the towers appear in their construction stage, showing evidence of urbanisation. This fastest growing city continues to employ workers usually from countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Optimism the future holds

These workers between 25 and 30 years of age come from different parts of India to the UAE with one purpose, to support families back home with the salaries they earn. One of them is a young father of a baby girl, seeing the toy behind with congratulation card and wishes. They work night shifts only as security guards for a construction company in the city, without a day off.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Life goes in

A young Sri Lankan woman prepares food in a very small kitchen for her family when they come back from work. This is part of her work while at home, after the job as a house maid for a local family in the city.

Al Satwa, Dubai

The common place

Two men in a kitchen, shared by around 30 workers living in the labour camp. Their health and safety conditions are at risk. The lack of cleanliness, sanitation, storage and fire safety equipment are often a reason for fire incidents in the area.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Food for thought

Workers in a narrow corridor that serves as a kitchen and dining area, with kitchenware all over the table and a plastic garbage bag hung on the door. This example of unhealthy living conditions is worth considering the health and safety of the people. However, this is how the families here have already been living for a few years.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Humanity over poverty

One of the workers feeding pigeons kept in large cages on the roof top of the labour camp he lives at. The compassion and caring attitude for other living beings goes beyond their living conditions.

Al Satwa, Dubai

In search of outer space

Two men on the staircase between the ground floor consisting of three rooms, a small kitchen and a narrow corridor used as a dining area; and an empty roof top. The space is used to store household items, as there is no available place for proper storage.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Open privacy

A young boy in his teenage years in front of a bed space covered partially with a curtain, revealing items over the bed. The conditions are visually better in this labour camp, however, at least eight people reside together in one room. The space is only able to hold single and double beds separated by curtains, a common practice in rooms occupied by two or more people in order to have some sort of privacy.

Al Satwa, Dubai

A home infused with more than just aromatic spices

Corner view of the kitchen interior in the workers villa occupied by families. Despite the tidy arrangement of the kitchen items, some being stacked up, a proper storage is an obvious necessity. Hygienic, sanitary conditions as well as fire safety equipment is also required.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Glimpse of purity

Interior view of the bathroom in the family worker’s camp. Besides the clothes hung or placed in plastic buckets, there are three buckets filled with water, a sign of water shortage.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Home, sweet home

This room, one of the three rooms in the workers villa, has three double and one single bed with no additional space for any furniture, besides two cupboards in the corner that cannot not be opened due to lack of space. A cupboard located in the corridor is shared by around 20 labourers. The room is partially covered by an iron sheet, that allow dust and sand to freely settle inside. Three larger ventilators, attached to each bed are the only solution to fight the heat as there are no air conditioning units in the room. Probably not the ideal place to get back to after an exhausting day at work.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Hopes and faith

This room is one of the five rooms in the male labour camp, revealing the living conditions and simple lifestyle of its habitants. The altar surrounded by  hand-drawn ancient Swastika symbols and Asian alphabet characters on the wall make a curious combination of traditional and religious beliefs. For the workers living here, still there is a hope.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Perspective dignity

Clothes and towels hung to dry under the sun and dust in the backyard of the worker’s villa. Since there is no place available inside, this is a clever way to utilize the outdoor space. Additionally, the hot weather comes in favour of electricity bills, despite the primitive system by using a large piece of wooden stem, wooden board, iron pipe and wires.

Al Satwa, Dubai

This is our home

Young workers gathered outside their rooms in the outdoor hallway of the male labour camp. There are five rooms, each one occupied by at least six to eight men and a shared kitchen. Due to limited space in the rooms, the long outdoor corridor is used to hang clothes to dry or just as a storage with the help of wires and short pipes. Despite the poor and unhealthy conditions, they keep their shoes outside when going into the rooms.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Set apart

The view of the backyard and neighbouring worker’s villa divided by the outside modern world, offering a better picture compared to the slums in some countries, yet gives a clear idea of the lifestyle and living conditions of the people who reside in.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Paints of surrealist perfection

The rustic walls with paint peeling off could be inspirational to artists, but for the people living in this building, it is definitely not suitable. The unstable construction, dirt and corrosion are a serious potential threat to the health and lives of those living in the dwelling.

Al Satwa, Dubai

Striking obstacle

The crack on this brick wall is not caused by an earthquake. The structure is about to collapse and its deplorable state is calling for urgent attention. Not sure how long the tree can hold the wall.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Flood of junk

Garbage on the street with boxes, plastic bags, bottles, cans, paper and cigarettes thrown away in front of the Mussafah shopping market. The waste can be seen everywhere in the area, despite environmental cleaning initiatives by the municipality.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Unsuspicious business

Young man found a solution to earn some extra money by making his own street business. Selling cheap products and services to the workers, often illegal, is a common practice in the area. Surrounded by a small group of labourers in front of the local shopping market, this spot is a great business strategy. Seems that nobody is bothered by the litter behind, a benefit to throw your food waste at a very convenient distance without the necessity to walk to the garbage container.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

The family away from home

A group of six young men, between 25 and 30 years of age from different parts of India living together in one room in a male labour camp. Five of them work only at night, and only one has a day shift who is not able to join their snack time before going to work. Sitting on the floor, covered with blankets, the place is used as a bed space by two of them. The other four share two double beds. Being as one family, their united hospitality remains part of the Indian culture and traditions despite their poor living conditions.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

Minutes of leisure

Two of the workers share news and laugh at stories from back home under the shade of palm trees in the backyard of the labour camp. This spare time to rest with a cigarette, almost feels like home. Wondering if they are actually happy with what they have and the world they live in. Probably, it is the only choice they have, hoping for the best.

Al Satwa, Dubai

The present we are in and the future we hope for

A farewell to the young men from India living in the male labour camp, who came to this country with their dreams of a good future. They work for a construction company in the city without a day off. There are many like them, employed by companies as cheap labour. They not only face hazardous living conditions, but also challenging and dangerous working environments. They often do not receive their salary and benefits, according to the labour law. Complaining is not an option, as they will end up losing their jobs which is the only hope they have to support their families back home.

Mussafah, Abu Dhabi

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