x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Britons warned over UAE arrests

The UK government advises its citizens to learn local customs before travelling to the Emirates to avoid running afoul of decency and drugs laws.

ABU DHABI // The UAE has the second-highest arrest rate in the world for Britons abroad, according to an annual report issued by the UK's foreign and commonwealth office (FCO). Between March 31 of last year and April 1 this year, 265 Britons were arrested or detained in the UAE, 24 of them on drug-related charges - an arrest rate second only to that in Thailand. Some of the cases involved passengers landing or transiting in Dubai who were found with drug residue on their clothes or bags, the report said.

Jeremy Browne, the FCO minister, said many of the situations were preventable. He advised those leaving the UK to take necessary precautions. "Helping out Britons in trouble abroad is part of our job, but we can't get you out of jail or pay your hospital bills," he said in a statement issued by the authority. "A bit of preparation before you go, such as arranging travel insurance and checking our website, will ensure you get the most out of your trip without bad memories and big bills."

The British Behaviour Abroad report, which did not give numbers on alcohol-related arrests, warned against public displays of affection, including kissing. It noted that under UAE law it is illegal to have sex anywhere outside marriage, including hotel rooms. In October 2008 Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, were jailed for three months after being caught having sex on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai. They also were fined Dh1,000 each for drunkenness and ordered to be deported from Dubai upon their release.

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In March this year, Ayman Najafi, 24, and Charlotte Adams, 25, were sentenced to a one-month prison term and fined after an Emirati woman complained that she had seen the couple kissing passionately at a restaurant last November. Other laws mean public drunkenness, swearing or making rude gestures also could lead to prosecution, the report said. A separate survey published with the report also found that the average holidaymaker spent about 45 minutes cleaning his or her house before heading abroad, almost 20 minutes longer than the time devoted to researching local laws and customs at their destination.

Jackie Williams, 35, a Briton who has lived in Abu Dhabi for two years, believes the British are more unaware than badly behaved. "The legal system is very different here and there is a lack of awareness not just about the laws but about the consequences," she said. "I think sometimes people take the idea of getting into trouble with the police too lightly. It is not a small thing over here, it's a huge deal."

Kavita Brownlie, 31, a British housewife who has been in Abu Dhabi for one year, said she was surprised by the report's findings. "I have read the stories about Brits getting into trouble but I assumed it was few and far between," she said. "When we moved out here we checked everything thoroughly, even down to the medication I was bringing out. I'm sure these figures are mainly from tourists and not expats. Maybe they are too busy thinking about the sunshine rather than checking up on the local laws."

Figures published in the report showed approximately one million Britons visited the UAE each year, with a further 100,000 living here. The 2008-2009 survey showed only 55,000 Britons living here. The report also showed high numbers of traffic accidents and costly health bills for Britons abroad, as a result of not declaring pre-existing health conditions to travel insurers. Most of the problems were avoidable through better preparation, the report concluded.

aseaman@thenational.ae