x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iran protests against 'poor treatment'

Iran issues a formal letter of complaint over the alleged mistreatment of its citizens trying to enter the UAE.

People queue at passport control at the arrival gate of the Dubai International Airport.
People queue at passport control at the arrival gate of the Dubai International Airport.

ABU DHABI // Iran has issued a formal letter of complaint over the alleged mistreatment of its citizens trying to enter the UAE. According to the Islamic republic's state news agency IRNA, the UAE's chargé d'affaires in Tehran was summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday to hear the protest. Mohammad Javad Rassouli, the director general for Iranian nationals' affairs overseas, was reported to have said the UAE "has insulted Iranian nationals and created unusual obstacles for them".

A number of Iranians have been subject to wrongful arrest, he added. No further details of the alleged mistreatment were given by IRNA or other Iranian news outlets. A Government source confirmed the chargé d'affaires had been summoned to the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs. The source said stringent airport procedures were "applied to all nationalities without discrimination". UAE officials involved in airport security said they were not aware of any incidents that could have led to the formal protest.

"We have not received any complaints - if anyone has a complaint it will reach me but I have not received any," said Maj Gen Mohammed Ahmed al Merri, the director general of the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department. "We treat everybody equally - all the nationalities are the same." A senior officer with Dubai Airport Police, who asked not to be named, confirmed there were no outstanding complaints against the department from Iranian nationals.

Iranians form one of the largest communities of expatriates in the UAE; about 500,000 live in the country, with most residing in Dubai. There are more than 200 flights between the UAE and Iran each week, and Iran remains the UAE's biggest trading partner. Recent figures put the value of commerce between the two countries at around Dh35.9 billion (US$9.77bn) a year. Saeed Noorai, a businessman originally from Tehran, said yesterday he had been treated in a "nice and courteous" manner every time he travelled to the country.

"It is very good treatment, nothing different from what I would expect. It didn't even take a long time to get through despite my having to get a visit visa." Hanie Tahari, 22, a longtime UAE resident, said she had never experienced problems from immigration officials at the airport, although six months ago members of her family travelling from Tehran were kept for more than two hours. "They were asked a lot of questions, but I don't know why," said Ms Tahari, who works in her family's business. "It seems to happen to people coming directly from Iran. I have never had any problems."

Similarly, an Iranian living in Dubai, who would only be identified as Hossein, 32, said he usually passed through the airport without any hassle. However, on his return from Tehran last week he was questioned more than usual. "When I came back I was asked for my address and where I work, which was the first time that had happened." Mehnaz Esmaili, 38, who has lived in Dubai for two years and travels frequently, said: "The experience is not bad and the service is good. But sometimes my luggage is searched more thoroughly and sometimes they [immigration officials] don't behave."

However, Arash, a Dubai resident from Shiraz, said that in the 20 years he had lived in the UAE passing through airport customs had always been easy. "When I travel I don't get checked or anything. I never had any bad experiences and it has been very easy to pass the airport and they have been very kind with us." Last month, the UAE sent a letter to the UN Security Council protesting against Iran's decision to build two new facilities on the disputed island of Abu Musa. The island, together with Greater and Lesser Tunb, is claimed by both Iran and the UAE, and has been occupied by Iran since 1971.

Abu Musa, which lies midway between the UAE and Iran, is thought to have access to significant natural resources as well as being an important ecological and strategic site. During the mid-1990s, the US claimed that Iran had based anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on the island. The GCC, which backs the UAE in the dispute, has denounced Iran for undertaking the construction work. Speaking to Abu Dhabi TV last month, the organisation's secretary general, Abdul Rahman al Attiya, said Tehran had shown "an absence of a constructive vision for neighbourly relations" over the issue.

gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae zconstantine@thenational.ae