DUBAI// Hundreds of Pakistani and Indian prisoners in UAE jails could soon be sent back to their homelands to complete their sentences.
The Cabinet announced on Sunday it had approved and ratified the prisoner transfer agreements with the two countries.
Pakistani authorities said the first batch of inmates could be transferred as early as next month, while repatriation of Indian prisoners could take up to nine months.
"There are no hurdles remaining now," said Jamil Ahmed Khan, Pakistani Ambassador to the UAE. "We are in touch with the Ministry of Interior and expect that by January the first batch would go. We are geared from today."
Mr Khan estimated that about 800 convicts sentenced for minor offences would be able to leave.
"But the final calculations will be made after the ministry gives us the data," he said.
"Once we get the final list, we will be able to send the first batch of prisoners the next day."
The Transfer of Sentenced Persons agreement was signed with Pakistan in February and with India in November last year.
Mr Khan estimated that between 1,200 and 1,400 Pakistanis were in UAE jails, while Indian officials believe 1,200 nationals are serving time for murder, drugs and petty crimes, which include drinking and illegally selling alcohol.
As per the treaty, prisoners can volunteer to be transferred but those jailed for drug offences, murder and financial crimes are not eligible to leave.
Mr Khan said Pakistan was prepared to pay the costs of repatriation and inmates would be sent to prisons close to their homes.
"Either the UAE Government will send them or we are absolutely prepared to send them through a chartered flight or on special flights," he said.
"I'll send them to prisons nearer their native towns so they can have access to their families."
Indian authorities said they were awaiting formal communication.
"We are still waiting to hear from the Government that they have ratified the agreement," said MK Lokesh, Indian ambassador.
He said it was the "responsibility" of the UAE to give them a list of approved prisoners. "We will then send it to our foreign ministry."
Mr Lokesh said that as stated in the agreement, the UAE would pay for costs incurred on their soil, while the recipient country could end up paying the airfare.
Authorities in New Delhi said the process could take time.
"It could take eight to nine months as verification with the state governments takes a long time," said Rajnish Kwatra, the undersecretary for prison reforms at the Indian home ministry. "We will try to do it fast enough but there could be delays in paperwork.
"It also depends on the state government's willingness to take them."