x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Deportation for minor road offences cannot be justified

Deporting expatriates who have committed serious crimes can be justifiable, but such a punishment for minor traffic offences is too harsh.

Last weekend, I was driving sedately through Abu Dhabi when a minibus, loaded with passengers, raced past at great speed and proceeded to jump a red light.

It's not the first time I have witnessed such irresponsible driving. I wondered whether the minibus would reach its destination safely, or whether I would read the next day of yet another horrific traffic accident. I didn't, so presumably it arrived without any mishaps.

What, though, can be done to curb lunatic drivers more effectively? Take away their licences? Make it plain to employers of such minibus drivers that they should dismiss anyone found driving in such a manner, even if their driving does not cause accidents or casualties as they endanger not only their passengers but the general public?

In Kuwait, the interior ministry has recently begun to implement a new policy: expatriates guilty of certain types of traffic violation are to be promptly deported. Deportable offences include driving without a licence, using their cars to carry paying passengers, jumping a red light for the second time or breaking the speed limit by more than 40kph. Over 1,200 people have been deported over the last month or so. Kuwaiti citizens, meanwhile, have their cars impounded - a somewhat lesser penalty.

I'm all in favour of clobbering really bad drivers. This approach, however, seems to be rather haphazard. What about drivers who cause death on the road? Or people who are driving vehicles under the influence of drink or drugs? Serious offences that warrant a prison sentence could be added to the list, which now includes, for the most part, relatively minor breaches of regulations. Adding deportation to a prison sentence for a particularly serious offence would seem more defensible than imposing deportation on someone who has jumped a red light for the second time, without causing any accident.

Not surprisingly, the Kuwait Society for Human Rights has commented that "the oppressive measures against expatriates ... violate the basic principles of human rights."

Perhaps the real reason for this somewhat controversial move is to be found in a statement by the country's minister of social affairs and labour last month that there is a plan to deport 100,000 foreigners every year for the next decade - yes, that's a million people - to reduce the percentage of expatriates in the population.

Using minor traffic offences seems to have been selected as one way of achieving this target, however unrealistic it may be.

I appreciate the concerns that Kuwaiti citizens may have about the percentage of expatriates in the country. How could anyone in the UAE, where the percentage of Emiratis is now hovering just above the 11 per cent mark, according to official statistics, not recognise that there is a real issue that needs to be addressed? How one tackles the issue is another matter, of course. But what is effectively forced deportation is a very unsatisfactory approach. The issue is far too complex to be tackled by setting a quota for deportations, and then finding reasons, or excuses, to try to fill that quota.

Deporting expatriates who have committed "real" crimes - whether against other individuals, or against society, or against the state - can be justifiable. Rapists, murderers, or those who, through corruption or other means, steal large sums of money might be suitable candidates. Lock them up, then, if they are expatriates, deport them. But someone who has driven a car without a valid driving licence?

The issue of what is, somewhat carefully, called the "demographic imbalance" in Kuwait, and the UAE for that matter, is not something that can be addressed effectively - if it can be addressed at all - by raising relatively minor infractions of the law into offences that lead to deportation. Social and economic factors have created the imbalance. Here, for example, the UAE's economic growth over the past four decades has caused the inflow of so many expatriates.

Our own Ministry of Interior, I'm glad to say, adopts a far more realistic and sensible approach.

I wouldn't object too much if some of the more lunatic minibus drivers on our streets, most of whom are expatriates, were to be given a mandatory one-way ticket home. But deportation for minor traffic offences cannot be justified.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture