Photo Credits: Farhad Berahmann/REX

An Iranian photographer has captured the desperate lives of South Asian labourers who travel to Dubai in the hope of building a future for their families – but find only squalor, low wages and backbreaking work in stifling heat.

Farhad Berahman’s pictures were taken in Sonapur, the unofficial name for a work camp on the outskirts of Dubai, located far away from the luxury, soaring skyscrapers and vast wealth that the United Arab Emirates city is renowned for.

‘Sonapur’ – ironically, the name means ‘City of Gold’ in Hindi – is home to more than 150,000 workers, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.

Thirty years ago, almost all of Dubai was a desert but it has grown rapidly become one of the main commercial hubs and tourist destinations in the region.
The photographer has visited Dubai many times and has watched it grow in size and wealth. The 33-year-old says there is an unspoken understanding that there are three different classes of people in Dubai – the Emiratis, the expats and, at the bottom, the labourers who built the city.

Photo Credits: Farhad Berahmann/REX

Photo Credits: Farhad Berahmann/REX

Farhad explains that several workers have their passports seized at the airport and are forced to work extremely long hours in blistering heat for very little pay. They are taken to Sonapur – which is not on the map – so they can be better controlled by employers.

He spoke to one labourer called Jahangir from Bangladesh. The 27-year-old has worked as a cleaner for the past four years and earns 800 AED (£139) a month and sends 500 AED (£87) to his family. He is forced to survive on what little remains.
Farhad explains: ‘People come to this land to make their future and benefit from the huge investments in construction and oil.
‘There are many luxurious hotels and world-renowned structures which labourers have built over recent years.
‘The employer usually takes their passport as soon as they arrive at Dubai airport and they are all sent to Sonapur.
‘The labourers usually work 14 hours where in summer the temperature goes over 50C.

‘Conversely, it is usually advised for western tourists not to stay outside for more than five minutes in summer.

‘According to the government’s laws, work places should close down during this kind of temperature in order not to harm labourers and their health, but the government often does not even announce the right weather temperature.’

The expats who enjoy high incomes will likely never experience the dark side of Dubai, where the labourers’ suffering is hidden from the media.

Farhad says he was so moved after seeing it for himself that he decided to create the photo series.
He said: ‘I did not try to get permission since these areas are restricted to the public and I was sure I would be unsuccessful since the UAE does not wish to show this aspect of their country.
‘So, I took pictures at night when it was much easier to hide from security. As soon as I started meeting labourers and getting to know them, I realised they were scared of me.
‘After a while one of the labourers who could speak English told Farhad they were afraid he was from the government.

He added: ‘Most of the time I slept in my car and waited until it got dark so I could do my work.’
In spite of his efforts, the photographer was arrested by security and questioned.
‘I pretended to be a lost tourist and the security wanted to report me to the police since the labourers’ area is forbidden to photograph.’ They let him go.
The Iranian photographer hopes that this series will make people think twice about what goes on around them, and if they are moved by the suffering they might be encouraged to do something to help.

‘I think treating humans so cruelly is against their human rights and yet it still exists around us,’ he said.

Photo Credits: Farhad Berahmann/REX

Photo Credits: Farhad Berahmann/REX

‘I can’t tell anyone what to think of the images, but I believe they speak for themselves.’

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