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Iranian Immigrants’ Dreams Die In Dubai, ‘City Of Happiness’

Iranian immigrants pass the time in a crowded hostel room in Dubai
Iranian immigrants pass the time in a crowded hostel room in Dubai
There are at least 30 hostels in the Jamal Abdul Naser area of Dubai that house Iranian immigrants. Muhammad, a young Iranian, lives in one of those pensions in a narrow back street, paying some $14 per night.

He spends his days job-hunting. In the evening, he returns to the rundown hostel where he shares a room with eight other immigrants.

“I haven’t found a job here yet. They don’t give us residency permits. My chances of finding a job are around 1 percent," Muhammad said. "I came to Dubai 15 or 16 days ago and since then I’ve knocked on every door asking for work, but I haven't found anything yet. Many Iranians in Dubai live in such circumstances, and we don’t know whether to stay here or go back home.”

Muhammad had imagined his life in Dubai differently. He had wanted to find a job as a cook in a restaurant to make money and build a better life than he was able to have in his native Iran. But reality has proved far harsher than he imagined.

Thousands of other Iranian immigrants in the Jamal Abdul Naser area tell similar stories. The young men living in the hostels come from various social and professional backgrounds. There are doctors and engineers as well as cooks, builders, and musicians among them.

Most of the disappointed immigrants say they were lured by advertisements on satellite television that promised wonderful opportunities in Dubai, referred to as the “City of Happiness.” But they mostly blame widespread unemployment and social restrictions in Iran that forced them to leave the country in the first place.

Muhammad says he “would never ever leave Iran” if there were enough job opportunities and personal freedom in his country.

Young, Educated, Unemployed

According to official figures, Iran’s unemployment rate is slightly over 10 percent. However, the semi-official Fars news agency recently quoted Iranian officials as admitting that the unemployment rate among people under the age of 24 exceeds 25 percent.

Many highly qualified professionals with university degrees complain they cannot find suitable jobs.

But it is not only the lack of jobs that drives out young Iranians. Many complain about increasing social restrictions, saying authorities want to control every aspect of peoples’ private lives -- from their clothing to the type of music they want to listen to or the newspapers they want to read.

So-called morality police stationed in Tehran’s streets often detain women who violate the Islamic dress code by showing their hair -- or men who have overstepped the rules by wearing Western-style T-shirts or funky haircuts.

Modern music is banned and alcohol consumption is considered a criminal offense. Repeating such an offense could even cost convicts their lives.

Mohammad Ali, a 27-year-old businessman in Tehran, notes that even surfing the Internet is closely controlled by the Iranian authorities. “Iranians were somehow used to political and opposition websites being blocked by authorities, but now they are even blocking music sites,” Ali says.

Abdul Wahhab Ansariyan, a young musician from Kurdistan Province, left Iran because he could not get permission to record his songs. Now Ansariyan lives in a hostel in Dubai along with other immigrants. But he has been unable to find a job in Dubai or extend his visa -- and he has spent all the money he brought with him from Iran.

Hamid Khosravani, a pension owner in Jamal Abdul Naser, says that during the past five years he has seen thousands of young Iranians come to Dubai hoping for better lives and opportunities. But he says most ended up with low-paid jobs, living in the poorest areas in the north of the city.

“My experience is that some 90 percent of [the Iranian immigrants] end up disappointed. Their main dream is to find a job,” he said.

Khosravani that the immigrants invariably blame the Iranian authorities for their shattered dreams, saying the Islamic government “has not provided jobs and freedom in Iran.”

Radio Farda’s Dubai correspondent Asha Shahir contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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