The divergent lives of South Sudanese in Dubai

I frequently walk proudly when I see a massive billboard with a Junubia posing in our famous graceful stride.

Sponsored street art in Karama's central open-air market. Photo by Alex Dunham, Time Out Dubai.

It is an open secret that Dubai stands as a beacon in business and glamor, attracting tycoons, expats, digital nomads, and models from across the globe, including South Sudan. For some, the journey to this city of dreams is paved with golden opportunities, as is the case for business owners and those in the fashion industry back in Juba.

I frequently walk proudly when I see a massive billboard with a Junubia posing in our famous graceful stride. Many of them become the faces of prestigious brands and walk the runways of renowned fashion shows. The secret behind their success is choosing the right destination where their talents and skills are appreciated and on-demand.

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In contrast, while our models pose for the flashing cameras in designer ensembles, some young men grapple with a harsh reality as legal restrictions bar them from formal employment opportunities, watching their dreams of prosperity give way to the immediate concerns of securing food and shelter.


In Dubai, many residents initially enter the country on visit or tourism visas, only to change their status legally when they land a job. However, challenges arise when an individual encounters difficulties finding a job or renewing and legalizing their status, leading to fines of 50 AED (USD 13.61) per day for overstaying.

A Junubi I speak to face, a daunting situation, having overstayed for six months due to an inability to leave the country, primarily because he can’t afford the hefty fine, amounting to a staggering USD 2,400. Others face even more substantial penalties, doubling this amount. This financial predicament traps them in the UAE, leaving them with limited options.

Most of these young men find themselves at a crossroads, grappling with the decision to either report themselves to the authorities, seeking pardon for deportation; but risking a ban from entering any country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, or facing potential arrest. Compounding these challenges is that living in an expensive city like Dubai exacerbates their predicament, where even activities like begging or wandering in the streets can lead to legal consequences.

In the bustling streets of Deira, the historic business center of old Dubai, a harsh reality unfolds for many Junubin who find themselves caught in a precarious balance between seeking refuge and navigating the complexities of an uncertain life. Without legal documentation and valid residency visas, they are facing limited opportunities for stable employment and grappling with the hardships of street life.

Recently, I encountered a young hustler who has been sleeping in car parks due to financial constraints, unable to afford a mere ‘bed space’ in a ‘shared room.’ Another group of Junubin has resorted to working for a coffee shop owner, unpaid, in exchange for napping for a few hours and keeping their belongings safe. These individuals, left with no viable options, have turned to odd jobs as their sole means of affording food.

I am not trying to discourage anyone, my intention in highlighting these challenges is to remind Junubin that Dubai, and the UAE in general, is different from any typical destination for job hunting, and anyone considering it should ponder on these challenges before boarding to DXB.

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