Life for expatriate workers, some of whom haven't seen their families back home in months or even years, can very often be lonely. And they are now finding that some of Abu Dhabi's malls, public parks and even sections of the Corniche are becoming no-go zones.
As The National reported yesterday, single men, particularly low-paid labourers, are increasingly finding themselves turned away from public places in the capital. Invisible social boundaries often greet unsuspecting individuals, who are left with little doubt they are not welcome in certain areas.
"They just allow the family person," said Farhan Ahmad, a 26-year-old construction worker from Pakistan. "Any place, you are forbidden here."
It is unfortunate that a member of the community has been made to feel so excluded. Labourers represent a significant and important section of the society - it is wrong to exclude them from public life.
The country owes a lot to workers such as Mr Ahmad, who have contributed significantly to the development of cities and infrastructure. It is important that everyone is given the respect that he or she deserves, be it in the workplace, on the roads or in public spaces. The majority of people are looking for nothing more than to enjoy a day off.
Of course, respect is a two-way street. Many single women, and indeed families with children, complain of harassment in certain public places such as beaches and shopping malls. Some have even had their pictures taken without permission. In such cases, behaviour that is rude or even threatening must be dealt with.
Cultural sensitivities and traditions can play a major factor in social interactions. Many women, both Emiratis and expatriates, feel uncomfortable in the presence of large groups of men. In a tolerant and open society, these women too must have access to public spaces where they can enjoy themselves without being bothered.
Efforts must be made to ensure that women and families feel at ease, not to mention safe, but it is important that does not belittle or humiliate innocent people.
Few countries are as multicultural, or as welcoming of expatriates, as the UAE. It is only right that every member of society, regardless of nationality or employment, is able to enjoy what the country has to offer.