x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Bulldozers circle run-down community

Homes in neighbourhoods populated by low-income families in Al Ain are being demolished to make way for large villas.

Umm Ahem sits in her house in Kabarat Khabisi. The housing development is being torn down to make way for new construction.
Umm Ahem sits in her house in Kabarat Khabisi. The housing development is being torn down to make way for new construction.

AL AIN // Umm Ahmed is an unemployed mother of two who survives on handouts from her neighbours. Soon, however, she fears she will be left to fend for herself as the residents of a run-down neighbourhood are driven out of their homes to make way for large villas. Al Ain Municipality has demolished about 200 of the 230 one-storey houses in the Kabarat Khabisi neighbourhood in the past two years, residents say, an area that is home to low-income Emiratis, Yemenis and Indians.

Mrs Ahmed, from India, who has been living in Kabarat Khabisi since 1983, said the municipality had threatened to cut off her electricity on a number of occasions. "My husband is dead and I don't have enough money to rent a new house," she said, adding that she feared she would be deported to Sudan, where her husband was born, or to her native India. "I've never been to Sudan and I can't move there," she said. "And I can't move back to India - all my family there is gone."

Residents still living in the area said many of the expatriates had been forced to move back to their home countries because they could not find affordable housing in the UAE. They also accuse the municipality of shutting off their power and issuing verbal threats to make them leave their homes. Ahmed al Shamsi, a manager of the land section at Al Ain Municipality, denied allegations of intimidation and said the municipality had warned residents for two years to leave the neighbourhood.

Emiratis living in Kabarat Khabisi would be moved into new houses in a year or two, he said, and they would remain in their existing homes until the new housing arrangements were finalised. However, he said there would be no housing arrangements or forms of compensation for the remaining expatriates, who would be evicted from their homes. "We can't offer them housing - only if the Government offers it to them," Mr Shamsi said.

Over the past year, bulldozers have knocked down homes in Kabarat Khabisi, while large, gleaming white villas have been built over the ruins. Mrs Ahmed and dozens of other residents said several houses were reduced to rubble while still occupied by families. They said a number of families had protested the demolition by remaining in their homes without electricity or water for several days as authorities began to demolish them.

A Yemeni family of 19, who have been living in a house with dirt floors and frequent power cuts during the hot summer months, said they could not afford to pay higher rents if evicted from their home as only one member of their family was earning a steady income. Mrs Ahmed is in debt and does not think she will be able to provide medication for her unwell son, 11, if evicted. "Thank God my neighbours are still here," she said. "They're such good people and they are the only ones who are taking care of my family and I."

Several Emiratis said officials from the municipality promised them new villas in a housing development near the Jebel Hafeet area of Al Ain three months ago but they had not heard anything since. "A man from the municipality came here in May and said we would be moved to a new house," said Umm Saif, a mother of three whose husband is studying medicine in Germany. "But we haven't heard anything since then."

Nearby, mounds of shattered concrete and splintered wood, which once formed the foundations of her neighbours' houses, had not been cleaned up and presented health hazards to her family. Her house, she added, was in serious disrepair. "We don't want money from the Government - we want new houses." Mouzah Abdullah, an Emirati widower with nine children, expressed regret that many expatriates had been evicted from Kabarat Khabisi.

"I feel sorry for the poor people - they don't have Emirati passports," said Ms Abdullah, whose house is lined by a makeshift wall of scrap metal. "These people have lived here for years - they were my friends." @Email:hnaylor@thenational.ae