x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Embassies report jailed expat numbers

More than 1,600 Indians, 300 Filipinos and 25 Britons were imprisoned in the past year - most were not sentenced.

Roxanne Hillier spent 68 days in jail after a police raid found her and her male Emirati employer in the same premises at night.
Roxanne Hillier spent 68 days in jail after a police raid found her and her male Emirati employer in the same premises at night.

ABU DHABI // The embassies of some of the countries with the most expatriates in the UAE have revealed that several hundred of their citizens have been arrested or faced time in jail over the last year. By last week more than 1,600 Indians, 300 Filipinos, 50 Nepalis and 25 Britons were incarcerated in the UAE, their embassies have said. More than 400 Britons are reported to have been arrested since January 2008, although the vast majority of them were not sentenced to time in jail.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has revealed that 91 Australians have been arrested in the Emirates since January 2008. Last week, 11 remained in custody or faced legal proceedings and had their passports held. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs reported that 17 Canadian nationals are in jail here, while the US Embassy's latest report said 20 Americans contacted it for consular assistance after arrest.

While some were charged with crimes that would be considered serious in any country, many were arrested on charges that would not result in jail in their home countries. Lawyers said many were unaware of the UAE's laws on arriving. Nicole Stroop was one of them. Her time in Dubai last autumn was supposed to last only 15 hours. Instead, the 34-year-old Canadian spent a night in jail and almost a month trying to get her passport back before flying out and vowing never to return.

Ms Stroop was on her way from a job in Kandahar to a holiday in South Africa when an altercation with a high-ranking immigration official in Dubai went wrong. During the stopover, she left Dubai International Airport to join friends for dinner at the Irish Village. When she came back through security, officials told her there was a problem with her passport. After 45 minutes of questioning, during which things went steadily downhill, Ms Stroop faced two charges, one for allegedly disrespecting an official and another for the alcohol she had consumed at dinner.

There were also many frustrating - not to mention expensive - days spent figuring out how to navigate a foreign court system. In the end, an official apology won the return of her passport, and she left the country. Had the case not been dropped, said Ms Stroop, "I could have been in jail for three years." The reasons cited for arrests include making or appearing to make rude hand gestures, drinking or carrying alcohol without a licence and, in the case of Ms Stroop, defending oneself just a little too vigorously for local sensibilities. Many expatriates, in light of the economic crisis, face jail for bouncing cheques.

In June, after the launch of a campaign in the UK urging Britons to respect local laws when they travel abroad, the British Embassy revealed that up to a dozen Britons were arrested every month, often for alcohol-related offences or for failure to repay debts. And even though she received an unexpected pardon last month, Roxanne Hillier, a 22-year-old diving instructor from South Africa, knows as well as anyone what it is like to run afoul of the UAE's morality laws.

She spent 68 days in jail after a late-night police raid found her and her male Emirati employer at the same dive shop. Before she flew out of the UAE, Ms Hillier, who maintains that her interaction with her boss was platonic, recommended that those planning on visiting or working in the Emirates familiarise themselves with the local laws. "Some would know about this situation," she said. "But not everyone is aware."

Iman Ouaddani, a lawyer at Al Otaiba law firm in Abu Dhabi, said people who got into trouble with the law often failed to appreciate the country's stricter legal system. She is representing a German executive who was arrested after taking a bottle of whisky that he bought at duty free in Dubai International Airport to a hotel in Al Ain. He spent nine hours in a jail cell and still does not have his passport.

"I feel very sorry for him," Ms Ouaddani said. "He did not realise that carrying whisky could get him into trouble." Alexandra Tribe, a lawyer from Al Midfa and Associates in Dubai, said expatriates mostly get into trouble for making obscene gestures and swearing. "People here do not tolerate it, and they can report you to police," she said. Sometimes the offences are far more serious, although they still would not lead to incarceration in expatriates' home countries.

Rob Glenn, a 29-year-old Briton, pulled out in front of a motorcyclist, who broke a leg when he swerved to avoid a collision. Mr Glenn was not able to leave the country for two years until the case went to trial, and in that time he ran up Dh26,000 (US$7,000) in legal costs. "In the eyes of UAE law, I was 100 per cent responsible, because I was over the white line on the junction," he said. "If I was anywhere else, I would have argued that I had to nose out because my view was obstructed by a tree."

Ms Stroop, who has lived in two Muslim countries, thought she knew how to handle herself while merely passing through a third. "Had I known," she said, "obviously I would have shut up." @Email:newsdesk@thenational.ae