Instant City: International City vs Migrant City?

Instant City: International City vs Migrant City?
Population Statistics

In a recent study by Lisa Benton, from 2006, that ranked cities based on the percentage of migrant population, , Dubai ranked the highest on the list, based on the number of people that were born outside the country, with a mind boggling 82 percent. This may deceptively suggest a very diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural population, however such is not the case. The majority of the population is from one or two countries, namely India and Pakistan (67 percent, see Image 1).

Population Statistics
Image 1, Population Statistics

Image Courtesy Benton, Lisa and Elsheshtawy, Yasser, Dubai behind an Urban Spectacle. London, 2010


This data ties into our argument of the living conditions of the people that contribute to a large part of this 67 percent. Moreover, foreign born migrants, have little to no opportunity of ever being able to obtain a citizenship or a permanent residency. The population as well as social structure, is thus very uniquely defined. In the absence of any official statistics from the government, only estimates ca be made, but it is estimated that the local population is as little as 10 percent with some reports suggesting that it could be as low as 5 percent. This population issue, is evident in the male to female ratio as well. the major demographic of migrant workers being male. According to statistics released by the Dubai Statistics Department, in 2006, the out of a total population of 1.4 million, 75.5 percent were male and only 24.5 percent for female. The problem for the citizens of Dubai, is that they are a minority in their own country. In a place, like Hong Kong, this phenomenon actually works, because it is, in the truest sense of the term, an international city. A place, where people from all over the world collide, a palimpsest where the east meets the west, and they blend together, to create a cocktail of urban experience, catastrophe and character, unique to Hong Kong. The problem that Dubai faces, with truly becoming an international city, is that the major international demographic is these people mentioned above and so, certain parts of Dubai, begin to resemble streets of India and Pakistan, which maybe a good thing for the people that live there, however might not be for the city itself. The city begins to exists as a series of fractures, or separated fragments, dislocated from the bigger whole, or the grand scheme of things. This may hinder Dubai’s aim of becoming a true international city. The government has tries to counteract this problem, by labeling the workers as ‘temporary workers’ instead of ‘migrant’ workers, and introducing some laws that give out six year contracts to these unskilled laborers, after which they must go back and renew their contract, or be replaced by someone else.  Another problem with the entire migrant laborer situation, is the sponsorship system as mentioned before, whereby each laborer must have a local sponsor in Dubai. This is basically the employers, that were mentioned in previous posts. This sponsor is responsible for holding the laborers passports and contract documents, they are basically the jailers, they control the lives of these laborers by holding their passports and preventing them from switching jobs, dictating their lives in the process.


  1. Elsheshtawy, Yasser. Dubai behind an Urban Spectacle. London: Routledge, 2010.

2 Comments on “Instant City: International City vs Migrant City?

  1. Very well done on the analysis between the international city and migrant city. Good use of comparison between Hong Kong and Dubai, which really helps a lot to understand the difference between the two with a bit more details.I don’t think the government’s proposal of “temporary workers” helps to create a true international city as the fact of population does not change.But I am not sure are the “temporary workers” also having the “jail” issue in their six year contracts that you mentioned in the case of migrant worker. If not, what is “temporary worker” means in here? and what constrains that they have comparing to the migrant workers?

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I would like to correct myself here, in case I caused any confusion, I was simply referring to the employers as jailers in a metaphorical sense. The workers are not actually imprisoned, however one can say that their lifestyles are not much better than someone who is imprisoned. Trey are not imprisoned by the law, they are imprisoned by their employers, who begin to act as captives, by seizing their passports and denying them access to the city, which I have mentioned in my post entitled ‘Instant City: Urban Planning as a medium of Control’. The term ‘temporary workers’ was coined by the government, to help create a more diverse population by recycling the laborers in and out of Dubai, however, it did not really help them in this endeavor as, the workers were never given access to getting a citizenship in the first place. The city cannon function without these people and thus the government has no option but to keep them in Dubai.

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