x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Convict repatriation is in national interest

A deal to allow Indian and Pakistani prisoners to serve out their sentences at home has benefits for the inmates and for the UAE.

It should be a win-win solution. Many Pakistani and Indian prisoners who have been languishing in UAE jails should now be eligible for repatriation to serve out the rest of their sentences in their home countries. For inmates who volunteer to be incarcerated nearer their homes and families, the benefits are obvious - equally, the UAE should be glad of an opportunity to close the books on cases involving convicted expatriate felons.

There are still details to be worked out. As The National reported yesterday, Pakistan expects the first prisoners to be transferred as early as next month; Indian prisoners will have to wait at least nine months as officials iron out the details.

The prisoner transfer was made possible after the UAE Cabinet announced on Sunday that agreements had been inked with both countries, which are both important sources of expatriate labour, and whose citizens comprise a sizeable portion of the prison population.

According to the agreements, prisoners can request to be transferred, but those jailed for drug offences, murder or financial crimes will not be eligible. Of the 1,200 to 1,400 Pakistani prisoners in the country, about 800 are estimated to be eligible for the transfer. Indian officials say that there are about 1,200 Indians serving time here.

For prisoners who are being held for relatively minor crimes, returning home will improve their chances integrating back into normal roles in society. For the UAE - which deports expatriate prisoners after their sentences are completed in any event - these inmates are simply a drain on state resources.

In recent years, the UAE has been considering a number of solutions to reduce the number of inmates, from community service to annual pardons. The new treaty is an important step in that direction.

There are other measures that are worth considering: one example might be a reform of the blood-money system, which keeps inmates in jail until compensation has been paid. An extension of the new treaty might allow expatriates to serve that time in their home country, without absolving them of the responsibility to pay.

The new treaty should be part of a wider trend to improve coordination in criminal matters between the UAE and countries with significant expatriate populations here.