The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) prisoner pack contains a few details about prison conditions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). has published an interview with former detainee, Simon, about his experience of being detained in the UAE prison system.

Unless otherwise stated all information below is taken from Simon’s interview.

Police stations in Dubai

The police stations in Dubai are very overcrowded. Bed space will be shared and it is unlikely that you will actually have a bed to sleep in. People who are detained in a police station will be held inside a cell 24/7, in rooms with very little sunlight. In these confined areas, Simon reports that tensions regularly run high and fights often break out.


The prisons are very overcrowded with a large number of detainees having to sleep on the floor. According to the most recent figures* from ICPS, UAE prisons’ official capacity was 7,045, however, occupancy level was actually 158%, with an actual prison population of 11,193. And, in what is an unusual trend, they also report that the number of foreign nationals detained makes up 92% of the total prison population.

*No new figures have been released since 2006


Based upon Simon’s report, people detained get three meals a day. Breakfast is usually bread with either a boiled egg or yogurt or cheese. Lunch consists of rice served with vegetables or meat (usually chicken), with lettuce and a piece of fruit or fruit drink. Due to the large number of people in the prison it can take a long time to get your food. When it is your turn, your food will be served on a metal tray without cutlery. You have to eat using your hands. Tea is often macaroni or soup, occasionally sausages or vegetable curry and rice. The food is generally of poor quality and our survival packs help to supplement a person’s diet – helping them stay healthy. Special dietary requirements can be accommodated but the prison doctor must prescribe special diets.

Medical concerns and treatment

When a person first arrives in prison they will be given a medical examination. Blood tests will be taken and the person will be held in quarantine until the results of the tests are determined. Those with a drug addiction are held separately from the other detainees. This article reports that all treatment that takes place in hospital is paid for by the Dubai Police, according to the prison administration.

Isolation and language barriers

Isolation is a serious issue for many Britons in prison in UAE, particularly if they do not speak Arabic. Trying to understand the proceedings of your case or even making your way around the prison can be incredibly difficult if you cannot communicate. This can also lead to people getting into trouble because they didn’t understand an instruction and then end up breaking the rules. Simon reports that boredom is a big problem; people often end up sleeping in the afternoons because there is nothing else to do.

How we help

We try to combat these issues by sending survival packs to Britons being held in UAE.  They allow people to purchase additional food and vitamins to supplement their diets, and to pay for things like basic toiletries. We also send books, newsletters, other reading materials and freepost envelopes so people can lessen the isolation and boredom of prison life.

Source 1: Detained in Dubai

Source 2: ICPS International Centre for Prison Studies

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.