SHARJAH // Illegal residents in Sharjah have welcomed an amnesty allowing them to go home without the threat of arrest or a hefty fine.
The UAE Government announced the two-month amnesty would begin this month and applicants started to receive their exit-clearance stamps last week.
The chance to exit the country without penalty was a relief to the men who turned up at the Sharjah Immigration Centre in Al Qasimia, although many said they were sad to be leaving.
"This is the best place to live in the whole world," said Saeed Mohammed, an Arab national.
"I move on the roads and go to the malls knowing so clearly it is my last time to see them and live in this good country.
"I would love it if I could go out and change my status from illegal to legal. My humble request to the good Government of this country is to allow illegals in future to go out and return on good documents without taking their fingerprints."
Another man, who identified himself as Mohammed from India, said he was happy to be given a chance to leave as he could not afford the fines after staying illegally for three years.
"It has been very stressful to live a life on the run and have to run whenever the word 'police' was said," Mohammed said.
"I miss my family terribly and was afraid if I turned up at the airport to leave they would have arrested me. Now this is my chance and I'm happy to use it."
Abdullah Gul, from Pakistan, said he came to the UAE six years ago hoping to make his fortune but was now happy to go home.
"I'm very grateful to the UAE's Rulers for allowing us to leave voluntarily and without fining us," Mr Gul said.
The two-month amnesty began last Tuesday. After February 4, anyone found in the country illegally will face fines of Dh100 a day for visa offences and Dh25 a day for residency offences.
A police spokesman at the Al Qasimia centre said 100 fewer people each day had responded to this amnesty than in previous years.
He said this was mainly due to lower numbers of illegals being in the country because of continuing campaigns.
"Also, we have more people coming in the last days of the amnesty," he said. "Others simply wait to see how things progress with their friends before they themselves turn up."
The spokesman said that people applying for the amnesty were required to bring the visa with which they entered the country and their passport.
Those without a passport should get a document from their embassy or consulate.
When an applicant's documents have been checked and fingerprints taken they are usually issued an air ticket home about 10 days later, if they can't pay for one themselves.
Brig Abdullah bin Sahoo, the director general of the Sharjah Department of Naturalisation and Foreign Affairs, said illegal residents in the emirate were being received at Al Qasimia and at the Khor Fakkan centre.
"This is a golden chance to all illegals in the country and no one should miss it," Brig bin Sahoo said.
"Once the deadline has passed we are going to start intensive campaigns to catch all illegals."