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Workers at a construction site as the UAE implements a midday work break from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for laborers to help cope with the heat, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 15, 2023. © 2023 Rula Rouhana/Reuters

(Beirut) – The preparation and delivery of the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), which began on November 30, 2023, rests on the backs of migrant workers, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a questions and answers document about the issue. Migrant workers form 88 percent of the UAE’s population and occupy essential jobs, including construction workers, drivers, airport staff, hotel workers, and security guards.

Conference participants should also pay close attention to the widespread abuses these workers face under the country’s abusive kafala (sponsorship) system. The conference site itself has been linked with various labor abuses such as wage theft, recruitment fees, and extreme heat exposure despite the global scrutiny brought by COP28.

UAE-based migrant workers face multiple harms linked directly to the worsening climate crisis. UAE-based outdoor workers are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat, which is linked to chronic health harm, without adequate protections or compensation. The labor abuses they face, such as wage theft, limit their abilities to send home financial support, including when their families face climate-linked catastrophes.

To ensure that these widespread abuses are not overlooked, the questions and answers document outlines how the UAE’s migrant workers and their communities back home are among those contributing the least to the climate crisis; yet, they are often the ones who have the greatest exposure to climate harm and struggle the most to deal with the consequences.

Migrant rights are a climate justice issue and should be treated as such, particularly at COP28, a conference dedicated to promoting climate action that is being held in a country overwhelmingly reliant on migrant workers.

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