As the United Arab Emirates intensifies its efforts to market itself as a top destination for tourists, expats and investors, the need is increasing for travelers to be made aware of the many risks they may face in the country. Travel agents, journalists, and particularly foreign embassies need to ensure that anyone considering the UAE as a destination knows enough to make an informed decision.
While there are indeed many attractions in the Emirates, both for tourists and businesspeople, the truth is that the legal infrastructure has not kept pace with the skyline. The modern image of Dubai, with all its excess and luxury, can easily suggest to foreigners that the UAE is a thoroughly advanced country that adheres to international standards of legal due process and human rights protections; unfortunately, this is often not the case.
Foreigners are more likely to become entangled in legal problems in the UAE than in any other popular destination. Arrests are frequently arbitrary, there are no standardized rules of evidence in court, prosecutors wield more power than judges, and legal proceedings are almost always biased in favour of UAE Nationals.
Tourists who may be unaware of local cultural mores can inadvertently cause offence, and find themselves under arrest for such trivial matters as public displays of affection or for taking a ‘selfie’ at the wrong place and time, or even for content posted on their social media accounts or private messages on platforms such as WhatsApp.
Expat residents can be required to provide landlords with post-dated cheques for a full year’s worth of rent which may then be suddenly submitted to banks at the first instance of a late payment. Such scenarios can lead to allegations of criminal fraud, and being slapped with an Interpol Red Notice.
Detained in Dubai has dealt with several cases over the past few months in which foreigners have been swindled out of millions of dollars by Emirati business partners who then cover their tracks by instigating false criminal charges against their victims. In these cases, there appears to be collusion between the local business partner, the courts, and even elements of the government.
“At this moment, we are helping clients who have been defrauded by Emirati partners of amounts in excess of $700 million,” says Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Dubai. “Their intellectual property has been appropriated, their assets stolen, they have been forced to flee the country, and at least one British client, Nico Consari, has been held in arbitrary detention for almost 2 years”.
Anyone considering a trip to the UAE needs to weigh the attractions of that country against the very real risks; risks that can literally turn their lives upside down.