On December 13, 2017, TAG participated in a hearing in Geneva, Switzerland to brief members of the Human Rights Council on human rights concerns in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The meeting was held in preparation for the UAE’s Universal Period Review (UPR), a mechanism by which the human rights record of each United Nations member state is reviewed by other countries every five years.
Civil society organizations can submit information to the HRC and put forward recommendations for how the country under review can better respect its human rights obligations as established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and any human rights treaties which the state has signed and ratified. TAG’s submission outlined concerns about the discriminatory, scientifically unsound nature of UAE laws and policies governing mandatory tuberculosis (TB) screening of migrant workers. UAE Cabinet Decree 7/2008 stipulates that migrants seeking employment in the UAE must undergo medical examinations to detect infectious diseases including TB, HIV, and hepatitis C virus (HCV). First time migrants found to have any lung scars on chest X-Rays are declared medically unfit, forcibly deported, and issued with a lifetime ban on entering the UAE. Cabinet Decree 5/2016 further demands that migrants seeking annual renewal of their residency permits must also undergo medical exams. Those seeking renewal can avoid deportation by receiving TB treatment in the UAE; in some cases, this involves periods of mandatory isolation in hospital settings.
TAG expressed grave concern that the application of UAE immigration law violates migrant workers’ right to science, health, information, and non-discrimination. As applied, the law does not distinguish between different forms of TB—e.g., latent TB infection (which by definition is non transmissible); the appearance of lung scars on chest X-ray (which could indicate previously treated TB or even lung infections other than TB); and active TB disease (which is rendered non-infectious quickly after the start of effective therapy). Furthermore, the direct health authority–employer communication channel under the policy means that employers are directly notified about a worker’s medical unfit status, and many migrant workers are never able to access their test results.
TAG developed its submission after receiving a high volume of appeals from migrant workers who had been deported from the UAE for evidence of lung scars on chest X-Ray. In the words of one migrant worker interviewed by TAG: “I did not receive any kind of medical records […] I asked about the medical report because I was worried about my health, and was told that I had inactive TB [i.e., latent TB infection], but still have to leave because of scars [on the lung].”
TAG concluded its statement by issuing a challenge to the UAE: commit to a rights-based response to the TB epidemic by aligning national laws and regulations on immigration and health with international standards in time for the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB in 2018.
Read TAG’s full submission, including testimony from migrant workers, here.
You can read the shorter statement delivered by TAG during the UAE’s UPR pre-session hearing here.
The statement is accompanied by a one-pager outlining key concerns and recommendations for United Nations country missions participating in the UAE’s review.
TAG is no longer collecting the experiences of migrant workers deported from the UAE after mandatory medical examinations.
If you’re a migrant worker to the UAE seeking up-to-date information on TB screening policies, or if you’ve been deported from the UAE after a chest X-ray or other TB test and want to share your experience, please write to Dr. Mohamed Aziz (email@example.com) and Dr. Samiha Baghdadi (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. This is the office of the WHO responsible for advising on TB activities in the UAE and other Gulf States.