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Home for Dubai's Illegal Immigants

Safa Park 1960-70s

Safa Park Dubai

Prior to 1975, this area was "home" to many of Dubai's Illegal Immigrants.

Dubai's Plywood Cities

Dubai as it used to be relied on Illegal Immigrants for its workforce. They mostly came from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, arriving by sea in Dhows and landing somewhere along the Trucial Coast. Sometimes unscrupulous Dhow Captains landed their human cargo onto offshore sandbanks where they became trapped as the tide rose and drowned. Once ashore these "Illegals" may or may not have had someone ready to help them. Often they made their way to Dubai in whatever way they could to seek work and somewhere to live. Illegal "Plywood Cities" established around Dubai. Made from scrap wood and materials these Plywood Cities became self contained Communities and home to thousands of Illegal Immigrants. One of these "Plywood Cities" developed where Safa Park is located today. In the late 1960s this area was desert and considered "outside" Dubai.

Dubai's Illegal Immigrants

Dubai's Government tolerated these "plywood cities" because Dubai depended on "Illegals" for its workforce. These "Cities" and their people were "out of sight, out of mind" but essential as a source of cheap labour to support Dubai's businesses. At the same time Dubai's Government declared Illegal Immigrants would be deported although little action was taken to do so. Periodically Dubai Government announced a "Pardon" for these "Illegals". "Illegals" applying for the "Pardon" received an Identify Card enabling them to now legally work in Dubai until some undefined future date when they could leave the country legally for their own Country but prohibited from returning. "Illegals" that applied for the "Pardon", kept working then left for their home country when they were ready to return to their home country. Most stayed in Dubai for long periods and acquired some "wealth" before they returned home. Others accepted the "Pardon" and immediately returned to their own Country at Dubai Government's expense. But whatever they decided these "Illegals"now knew how to enter Dubai illegally, find work and live. Many later returned again as Illegal Immigrants with different identities to begin the cycle again. "Illegal Immigrants" played an important role in Dubai's Development.

Feeding the Children

Illegal Immigration was not confined to men. Families and single women also entered Dubai illegally. "Safa City" was home to Immigrant families and a large number of children. Amenities in the "Plywood City" were non existent - one or two water standpipes, no electricity or sewage systems. Safa City was an unhealthy place to live. Immigrants had no access to Dubai's limited medical facilities or services. Children were undernourished. Save the Children Fund established in Dubai in 1960s. They organised Feeding Programmes for these needy children. Women's Guild of the Holy Trinity Church provided Volunteer Expatriate Wives to run a Feeding Schedule. STCF provided food which these Volunteer Wives regularly took into Safa City and fed the children. Children knew the schedule and arrived on time with each carrying a bowl to receive their food.

Safa Park

Dubai began to expand. "Safa City" and its people were no longer out of sight, out of mind or out of town. "Safa City" and its people became a "nuisance" and an eyesore. Dubai Municipality planned to develop the area. Dubai's Government issued another "pardon" for "Illegal Immigrants". "Safa City" was evacuated then demolished and its Residents faded away to other areas. Safa was not flat as it is today. "Safa City" was built on top of a small sand hill. Dubai Municipality announced a Public Park to be built in Safa. This small sand hill was flattened to become Safa Park in 1975.

Thought for the Day!

Today Dubai's People enjoy picnicking in Safa Park where Illegal Immigrants once lived on the edge of life in Dubai as it used to be.
Safa Park circa 1978

Safa Park 3 or 4 years after its opening in 1975. Trees are yet to grow and establish. In the background is Dubai's Metropolitan Hotel - building started 1976 - pending demolition announced for June 2012. Behind the Hotel is Dubai's Desert prior to development. Old Abu Dhabi Road is between Safa Park and Metropolitan Hotel.


Dubai Cares is a philanthropic organization working to improve children's access to quality primary education in developing countries. Dubai CaresLaunched in September 2007 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

Save the Children is one of Dubai Care's Partners