DUBAI // Hopeful Indian prisoners began filling out transfer application forms this week, marking the first step towards the enactment of a prisoner-swap deal between their home country and the UAE.
The Transfer of Sentenced Persons agreement was signed in New Delhi in November 2011 and ratified by the UAE in February this year.
President Sheikh Khalifa's decree endorsing the deal was published in the federal official gazette last week.
Despite the February ratification, distribution of the application forms had just begun. But the delay had not dampened the spirit of prisoners wanting to finish their sentences in their homeland.
"All of us have been hearing about this for such a long time and I can't believe it is finally happening," said Sayeed, who has served half of a two-year sentence for a road accident at Dubai Central Prison.
"We have been given one page to fill up with our case number and details and where we want to be sent in India. But no one is telling us when we will be transferred. When will this happen?"
Authorities said they could not answer that question until all the formalities were completed.
There are up to 1,000 Indians in UAE prisons, according to the Indian embassy.
The Indian ambassador, MK Lokesh, said his staff were distributing forms to jails across the UAE.
"We can't give any time frame because it involves the UAE Government," he said, adding there were no Emirati prisoners in India.
"We are trying to issue forms to all prisoners. Those interested in going back can fill them out. It is then sent to local authorities for processing and approval, after which the request is sent to India."
The forms require an inmate's name, reason for imprisonment, time served and passport details.
Those convicted of drug offences, financial crimes or required to pay blood money in murder cases are not eligible. But each case will be scrutinised to assess if it meets the terms of the agreement.
"Many of us are keen to know if we are eligible," said MB, 56, who was sentenced to 15 years for murder.
"About 65 of us have received the forms in our section. We are yet to receive more papers. Consulate staff said we will get them next Monday. They will also give us more details on eligibility."
Incarcerated in Al Aweer prison's building one, MB hopes to serve his remaining eight years in an Indian jail closer to his family.
"The Dubai prison is clean and comfortable. But back home, even if there is no place to sleep or proper food to eat, many of us want to go back because it's our homeland," he said.
"I want to see my children and wife. My wife was pregnant with our youngest son when I left home. I have never seen him. I couldn't even see my parents before they died."
Any fines, blood-money payments or financial dues must be settled before cases are considered. Only inmates with more than six months left to serve are eligible to return to their home state. Transport costs will be met by India.
Rajnish Kwatra, the undersecretary for prison reforms at the Indian home ministry in New Delhi, said completed applications would be checked at the federal and local levels.
"Missions have to get data on the number of prisoners," Mr Kwatra said. "Prisoners' applications should then be forwarded to the centre and state divisions in the ministry of home affairs."