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Tourists flock to Dubai despite global crisis, says Al Merri

Number of visas issued in January up compared to previous year, senior official says

  • Tourists in Dubai's spice souk
    Tourists enjoy their visit at the Spice Souk in Deira, Dubai.Image Credit: Hadrian Hernandez/Gulf News
  • Tourists in Dubai's spice souk
    Major-General Mohammad Ahmad Al MerriImage Credit: Francois Nel,Gulf News
Gulf News

Dubai: Tourists continue to flock to Dubai despite the global economic downturn, a senior official said.

Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, Director General of the Residency and Foreigners Affairs Department in Dubai, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview that tourism in Dubai and the UAE is thriving.

"Tourists are still flooding the emirate and the number of tourist visas issued is increasing. In January, the demand for tourist visas and visas issued on arrival was on the rise. We issued 411,774 tourist visas compared to 406,935 during the same period last year," Major General Al Merri said.

"I can tell you that the tourism sector is peaking."

Major General Al Merri, who is also chairman of the Permanent Committee for Labour Affairs, said the committee is working on being the main representative for workers' rights.

"We have measures in place to guarantee workers' rights. This issue is very important for the country," he said, adding that labour welfare teams are intensifying inspections of construction sites to ensure that workers are always treated properly.

He also said that protecting the rights of all residents tops the agenda of the UAE government which is keen on looking after every single issue that will ensure a secure, safe and sound life to everybody on its land.

"His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said the word ‘impossible' does not exist in the leaders' vocabulary. No matter how big the challenges, strong faith and determination will overcome them, and that is what makes our country a story of success," Major General Al Merri said.

Gulf News: Let us start with the human rights report issued this year by Human Rights Watch (HRW). What is your take on it?

Major-General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri: We are very keen on defending and protecting everybody's rights all the time no matter where they come from, who they are and what they do. We have strict laws, rules and regulations regarding protecting human rights here. It was obvious that the report was incorrect and it was based on inaccurate information and irrationally criticised the UAE.

In what sense was it inaccurate?

The report totally ignored our extensive and widespread efforts to protect all workers and residents here. The report also ignored our commitment to labour rights.

The report falls short in sufficiently showing the constructive steps taken by the UAE to be part of human rights not only this year but in all the past years.

No serious human rights violations have ever happened in the UAE. We have opened all doors to human rights groups to watch and to prepare their reports and we have nothing to hide.

As the chairman of the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs in Dubai, how do you follow up worker issues here?

We have measures in place that guarantee workers' rights. This issue is of high importance in the moral and cultural principles of the country.

The labour welfare teams are intensifying their inspections of all construction sites in the emirate to ensure workers are always being treated properly.

There are several departments working together to offer workers a healthy work environment. Don't forget the unique Wage Protection System, which channels workers' salaries through banks rather than cash handouts, and which became operational last year.

The committee is also looking after the accommodation of labourers which should be hygienic and clean.

We look after the labourers' problems and we try to solve them. Those workers participated in the development of our country and we have to protect their rights.

In 2009 the committee inspected 2,837 labour accommodations in Dubai and it was found that 90 per cent of those accommodations were adhering to our rules, while 2,045 visits were made to work sites during July and August to check on companies who were sticking to midday break hours. Some 1,908 companies were sticking to the rules and 137 companies were forcing workers to work during the midday break.

How do you see workers' complaints against their sponsors?

Most complaints are related to agreements between the worker and the recruitment companies in the home country of the labourer who was promised something back home and was given something else here. Last year we received 196 labourers' complaints. We are working hard on meeting the needs of workers.

Where does the Permanent Committee of Labour Affairs operate from?

We have service centres in Jebel Ali, Al Muhaisna and Al Quoz areas because most of the workers are staying in those areas.

Those centres work on educating the workers about their rights and dues. They also try to bring the employer and the employees closer to each other. We are working on being the main representative for workers rights here.

Has there been any decline in the number of visitors to the emirate especially with the global financial crisis?

Like all others the recession has had its mild impact on us, however, tourists are still flooding into the emirate and the number of tourist visas are on the increase.

In January the demand for tourist visas and visas upon arrival for specific nationalities was on the rise and we issued some 411,774 tourist visas in January this year.

The Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) has also been attracting a lot of tourists this year with travellers checking in through Dubai International Airport.

What I want to say here is that in the UAE we were able to contain the impact of the global financial crisis. A number of decisions were taken by our leaders which reduced the negative impact on people's lives here and made everything move normally.

People of different backgrounds, ethnicities and ways of thinking are still enjoying living here and more wish to come to live and work here.

Dubai has become a main tourist destination...

Our country is beautiful and enjoyable and is also peaceful and safe to be in. Do you know that a large number of tourists from all over the world are coming here just to visit and see Burj Khalifa which has become one of the most important and beautiful tourist attractions on earth?

Also the number of cruises has increased. There were 36 cruises which brought in some 56,000 tourists since the beginning of February.

Moreover, despite the recession, Dubai topped the world in gold and textile trading.

A year has passed since the implementation of the new visa rules? What have been the results?

Our statistics prove that the new rules have had a positive impact on the movement of travellers in the emirate. It also helps on overcoming the existence of illegals in the country as it regulates visa issues.

Can you brief us about the strategic partnership between the Dubai Residency Department and other departments?

We have the Ministry of Labour (MoL) interchange data system linking electronically both government entities.

The two are exchanging data electronically to facilitate the procedures of cancelling Labour Permits and Cards that are issued in Dubai to save the public's time through a secure and accurate flow of records.

This unique system is applied in Dubai only and forms the second phase of the electronic connection system between the ministry and the residency department that is set to reduce the time and effort for companies based in Dubai and their employees in general.

How does this system work? Can we get more details?

The electronic service allows companies to complete the cancellation process from their offices as opposed to the previous system which required a number of visits to both offices. This online system is available 24/7. It really helps in reducing the time needed to complete the procedures as there is less paperwork and fewer employees involved from both ends.

The service is currently on offer to Dubai-based companies that employ 50 staff and above and who already have an e-signature card registered with the ministry.

Other companies with less than 50 employees on their staff will still have to refer to the ministry for the time being.

Department: Inner workings

  • The number of tourist visas and visas upon arrival issued in Dubai in January stood at 411,774 compared to 406,935 in the same month last year.
  • Those who break the residency law face two months in jail and a fine of Dh100,000 if they employ illegal workers. The fine is Dh50,000 if that employee is on the sponsorship of another company.
  • The number of forged passports seized at the airport so far this year is 131.
  • The number of people caught by the iris scan in January stands at 274.
  • The number of people using the e-services of the department is 1,096,920.