x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'I will die if I go home' - UAE visa amnesty is not an option for all

Many illegal residents say they would rather continue to work odd jobs than go home before the Government’s two-month amnesty expires on February 4.

Mohammed Riazuddin, left and many other illegal residents say they would rather continue working odd jobs than return home before the Government's two-month visa amnesty ends on February 4. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammed Riazuddin, left and many other illegal residents say they would rather continue working odd jobs than return home before the Government's two-month visa amnesty ends on February 4. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Many illegal residents say they would rather continue to work odd jobs than go home before the Government’s two-month amnesty expires on February 4.

Mohammed Riazuddin, 26, is one.

"What's the point in going back?" asked the Bangladeshi, who earns as much as Dh1,200 a month working as a carpenter or plumber.

He has been doing odd jobs in the Dubai Investment Park area since his residence visa expired last August.

"I won't even be able to get food in my country," Mr Riazuddin said. "I've taken a loan of 300,000 taka (Dh13,765) to pay the recruitment agent and haven't been able to pay back even 100,000 taka of this. How can I go back?

"My parents told me to stay here. They say it's OK if I get jailed here."

Mr Riazuddin came to the UAE in 2011 to work in a gypsum factory but said he left the company last August because he was not being paid regularly.

His compatriot Mohammed Hossein, 37, who used to work for a construction company, said he was in a similar predicament.

"I have paid 280,000 taka to the agent by selling our land," Mr Hossein said. "How will I repay this? If I go back home, I'll die for sure.

"My family is dependent on me. I have two children who need to be educated. The loan amount is still outstanding. If I stay here, I'll maybe earn something."

Mr Hossein said he earned about Dh500 a month, most of which he sent home.

He said he was willing to take the risk of being arrested for staying as an illegal resident.

"I can probably earn some more money and take care of my family longer. I could go to jail here."

Many like Mr Hossein wait outside bustling supermarkets in Dubai Investment Park, where they are likely to be hired for a few hours to fix things at home.

"We hang around markets to get jobs," he said. "If someone is willing to hire me full time and legally, I am ready to go work."

Charity workers say some workers fear they will be prevented from returning to the UAE, and this is deterring them from using the amnesty period to leave.

"Lots of people are scared of being faced with a ban," said C?P Mathew, chief coordinator at Valley of Love, which works with labourers.

"This time they are taking eye scans and fingerprints. Earlier, they used to ban only people who had complaints against them. This time, there is no clarity on if there is a ban.

"People are constantly calling to check with us. We are also trying to confirm if they can return to the UAE."

While announcing the amnesty in November last year, Maj Gen Nasser Al Menhali, assistant under secretary for Naturalisation, Residency and Port Affairs, said only criminals would be prevented from returning.

"After the illegal residents are processed under the amnesty they must leave the country, but as long as they have not committed any crimes they can come back in the future."

Others cite expensive airfares as a reason to delay their return.

"I want to go but I don't have money for tickets," said Sohel Mohammed, 26, who once worked as a storeman.

Habib C?K, an Indian national who has been without a visa for almost 15 years, said he had trouble paying for his airfare but planned to return.

"I have applied for my out pass and am waiting for it to be issued," Mr Habib said.

"I am not sure how I will arrange for the tickets. I will have to ask my friends. But I definitely plan to go back."

pkannan@thenational.ae