ABU DHABI // Thousands of illegal residents thronged immigration centres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai yesterday as the two-month amnesty allowing people to leave the UAE without penalty closed.
However, in the rush many people were left confused over what to do, where to go and even if they had made the deadline at all.
In the capital, people began queuing at the naturalisation and residency departments’ departure office in Mussaffah from 3am.
“I was here yesterday but they asked us to return today,” said Unni Krishnan, 41, from India. “Now we’ve been asked to go to Shahama police station.”
Mr Krishnan arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2002 to work as a supervisor at an electrical company. His employer did not renew his visa, which expired six months ago, so he decided to take advantage of the amnesty and return home to his wife and daughter in Trivandrum, Kerala.
An exasperated Sufi Ahmad, 25, from Bangladesh, arrived at the centre at 7am. He questioned why they were being turned away. “We’ve been standing here for more than five hours,” he said.
A former housemaid from the Philippines said she had attended a briefing along with more than 30 Filipinas inside the amnesty centre. “They didn’t accept any applications today,” she said. “But we were advised to go to Shahama police station on Wednesday.”
She said they were told to bring their belongings, an air ticket and travel documents. “We were told we will stay there for 10 days before we can exit the country,” said the 31-year-old from Cebu City.
A police official at the Mussaffah centre confirmed that amnesty seekers should go to Shahama station. “Anyone who wants to go home will have to go to Al Shahama,” he said. “We’ll accept them until Wednesday.”
In Dubai, confusion over the exact day of the deadline meant thousands of illegals were turned away by authorities at the Al Aweer immigration centre.
“I went to the centre on Monday morning and they said it’s closed,” said Navamalar, a Sri Lankan expatriate who did not want to disclose her full name. “They said, ‘We can’t do anything, and the amnesty has finished. We gave you two months. Why didn’t you leave earlier?’ They asked to us to go to the head office.”
Ms Navamalar said the lack of proper documents delayed her exit.
“I had a tough time getting back my passport from my sponsor.”
Kareem brought his wife and three children, aged 4, 7 and 15, to the Al Aweer centre yesterday believing he had made the final day of the amnesty, only to be told otherwise.
“They closed the gate to the centre,” said the Indian former businessman, who did not disclose his full name. “Nearly 2,000 people were waiting outside ... people think the government may extend the amnesty by a few more days.”
When asked why he waited until the final day, Mr Kareem answered: “I was trying to get a proper visa. I applied for an emergency certificate at the consulate only on Thursday, and received it today.”
The Indian Embassy said it had been informed by immigration authorities that Sunday was the last day of the amnesty. MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador, said: “People should have applied earlier.”
The Sri Lankan, Indian and Ethiopian missions were crowded yesterday with people without proper papers applying for emergency certificates, a temporary travel document issued by consulates and embassies in the absence of a valid passport, to leave the UAE.
“We received complaints from our nationals,” said Mesganu Arga Moach, the Ethiopian consul general in Dubai. “They were told they cannot get their applications processed by immigration because of the expiry of the amnesty.”
But it was a different story at the Indonesian Embassy where only 16 people approached staff, bringing the total number of illegal residents assisted to 974.
The Nepal Embassy issued just one outpass yesterday, bringing the total during the amnesty to 133.
The Philippine Embassy received 15 amnesty seekers yesterday, nine of whom applied for travel documents. In total, 1,650 sought help from the embassy.
One hundred outpasses were issued at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday, while the consulate in Dubai was busy with 250 applications. The embassy helped 20,800 people during the amnesty.
The Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai issued 5,585 outpasses as of yesterday, said Zahida Parveen, the Pakistani press counsellor.