India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in the United Arab Emirates for a two-day visit during which he will deliver a speech to thousands of Indian expatriates, tour a mosque in a symbolic gesture of outreach to Muslims and discuss with rulers how to improve already strong trade links.
Modi, who has come under fire for his party’s affiliation to hardline Hindu groups, will kick off his two-day visit with a tour of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
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The first Indian premier to visit the country in 34 years, Modi will meet on Monday with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
He will also speak at the Dubai Cricket Stadium, where more than 52,000 people have registered to attend, according to the Gulf News.
In an interview published in the local newspaper on Sunday, Modi acknowledged that “there is a mini-India in the UAE.”
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, is home to about 2.6 million Indian expatriates who comprise a third of the total population and outnumber the local Emirati population.
Annual Indian remittances from the UAE are estimated at $14bn.
Modi said India is the UAE’s second-largest trading partner and the UAE is India’s third largest trading partner behind the US and China. Trade between the two reached $60bn last year.
Wealthy Indians living in the UAE have taken advantage of the country’s rapid development over the past three decades, settling there just as Abu Dhabi and Dubai were transforming from fishing ports into bustling investment hubs buoyed by the discovery of oil.
There are also thousands of poor Indian migrant workers building the country’s dazzling skyscrapers and shopping centres.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the UAE for its treatment of migrant workers, saying that despite government efforts, some employers continue to withhold wages, confiscate passports and provide substandard housing.
Modi will be visiting one of the UAE’s largest labor camps in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to meet Indian workers.