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From Nigeria to UAE, via many deceptions

On August 25, 2020

My name is Allen. I am a 31-year old Nigerian, a single father to a 12-year-old, living and working in Abu Dhabi. 

I graduated from University in Nigeria, where I studied accounting, and also achieved a diploma in hospitality management.

My migration journey began in December 2013, when I travelled to Dubai on a 30-day tourist visa, with the hope of seeking greener pastures and creating a better life for my community and family.

On arrival, I met with a Nigerian brother who took me to a one-room-apartment with five other Nigerians, and I had to pay him US$200 for one month’s rent.

It took me a few days to settle in but I began job-hunt the following week. It was quite unfortunate that the Nigerians in UAE are stigmatised, racialised and deprived of lucrative white-collar jobs despite our qualifications. Due to my difficult economic circumstances, I had to settle for a waiting job at a casual dining restaurant in Abu Dhabi.

The company was owned by an Emirati businessman and managed by an Egyptian operation director. The restaurant was poorly managed and not well organised. Salaries were delayed for up to three months, and our accommodation was terrible: 10 people to a room, with 20 people sharing a kitchen and a bathroom.

After enduring my contracted two years, I got another waiting job with an international hotel chain in Abu Dhabi. It was a pre-opening hotel downtown. The management was quite nice and the accommodation was a vast improvement from the previous –  only two people to a room with gym facilities too.  

However, I was waiting tables at banquets, so it required me to work extra hours, standing, bending, pushing heavy items, setting up for events and breaking down the events space. The job was quite hectic and resulted in many visits to the hospital. My employer paid for medical care and surgery, but my back deteriorated when I went back to work.

Though I had signed a two-year contract, I only worked 18 months, as the job was quite hectic. I got another job offer with yet another luxury hotel, again as a waiter. The pay was better so were the job responsibilities in the offer letter. Unfortunately, when I resumed work, I was transferred to the banquet department again. I worked there for almost 2 years.  

The majority of migrants I spoke to were brought to the UAE with the promise of a better life and good jobs, but these agents extort money from them and leave them stranded. Invariably those who were cheated arrive on tourist or visit visas.

During my service with the second hotel, I developed an interest in health and fitness (I was a fat guy, but I was able to exercise and cut my diet and began my weight loss journey).

I took some courses in fitness, personal training and nutrition in Dubai and got certified.

I got a job in a gym in January 2020. But soon after Covid-19 hit the country, around April, I was terminated. It was really tough because I received no salary or allowances. 

I had to vacate my accommodation and move to a bed space with many other people inside the room. The Nigerian government took no part in supporting or helping its citizens in the UAE. It’s really tough. Even now. 

There aren’t many jobs available, but thanks to several kind-hearted people and community organisations, I and those like me received help for groceries and room rents.

I am still unemployed and am struggling to make ends meet but I am also positive and into community service and volunteering. During this pandemic, I was able to work with another volunteer to set up a Whatsapp group to support African communities – we have members from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Ugandan.

It has been a great privilege to support my brothers and sisters.

This group was created to help and support the African communities, who are in need – some are stranded and sleep outside in the hot weather because they can’t pay rent; some had no money for food, while some couldn’t afford the repatriation tickets.

During the course of my relief work, interviews with workers revealed the many deceptions they had to face. Africans are kind of stigmatised, and many companies do not want to employ us unless it is in constructions or cleaning jobs. Even amongst Africans, there are classes, and those who may have a degree or second passport from Western countries fare better.

The majority of migrants I spoke to were brought to the UAE with the promise of a better life and good jobs, but these agents extort money from them and leave them stranded. Invariably those who were cheated arrive on tourist or visit visas.

For example, there is a Cameroonian in the network that was duped of about AED7,000 for a security job. He had paid the money before leaving his country, only to arrive in Dubai and discover that it was all a scam. He had a three-month tourist visa with him and he needed to find a job to be able to change his status into residency. 

Due to the pandemic, he was unable to get a job and had to return to his country, in debt and empty-handed. In another case, this Nigerian lady came here with a tourist visa and met with some agents who promised her a job. She was asked to pay a sum of AED2,000 which she did and she never got the job or heard from the agents again. Such cases are not treated as a labour case, but as a fraud case and involves going to the police. We did report to the police, but they could not establish a case as there were no documents that we could furnish. 

There are also many stories of workers terminated from their company due to the Covid-19 without gratuity and pay. We all support each other, and we also solicit funds and foodstuff. We were able to secure a room and gave bed space to the most vulnerable.

Recently, there was a video that went viral of a group of  Africans who were stranded and slept outdoors in the acute summer heat, because they couldn’t afford rent.  The landlord had pushed them out and they couldn’t afford flight ticket fees too. When we contacted the Nigerian consulate, a delegate came and made a speech and left without any hope for help or support. We had to reach out to other charitable groups for help. 

Still, I don’t want to leave.  Apparently, I see a positive approach to this; I mean, securing a job in the fitness industry would be the best solution or any available job at the moment frankly. There is absolutely nothing to go back to in Nigeria, the economy is worse and a lot of Nigerians are unemployed. Staying back would be the best option, and probably get a job to be able to sponsor my child and my parents back home who are helping to take care of her.

Despite these hardships, my work in the UAE has helped me a lot. I was able to help fund my sister’s tuition fees, helped my father pay his mortgage, covered my family’s needs, and most importantly my daughter’s school fees and welfare.


Allen, who requested that we not use his real name, is a Nigerian migrant worker in UAE. Over the last several months he has helped others like himself survive the pandemic.

Photo courtesy: Anna Fuster, Creative Commons,