x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

No flood of illegals as UAE amnesty opens

There has been a mixed turnout for amnesty seekers - Bangladesh had about 300 people come to its embassy for papers, while the Pakistani embassy saw fewer than 10.

ABU DHABI // There was a mixed turnout on the first day of amnesty for people living in the country illegally. While few came to the Indian and Pakistani embassies in the capital, the Bangladesh Embassy received about 300 people seeking documents.

The Government announced a two-month amnesty, beginning yesterday, which gives illegal residents until February 4 to apply for exit documents without any consequences. After that time, fines will be imposed for overstaying visas, violation of immigration rules and residing in the country illegally.

Fines are Dh100 per day for visa offences, and Dh25 per day for residency offences.

Mohammed Nazmul Quaunine, the Bangladesh ambassador, said his mission issued about 200 outpasses, or emergency certificates, yesterday.

“It has been  a rush on the first day of the amnesty and we expect more people to come,” he said.

There are more than 700,000 Bangladeshis in the UAE. Exit documents  are Dh20.

Syed Ahsan Raza Shah, charge d’affaires and deputy head of the Pakistan mission in Abu Dhabi, said the embassy received 15 amnesty seekers by 1pm yesterday.

“The nature of being an illegal resident could be different. That’s why we had few people here and of course that number could be less, but we expect that the number would increase as we advance to the deadline,” Mr Shah said.

There are 1.2 million Pakistanis  in the UAE, and the embassy has provided additional staff and space to handle amnesty seekers.

The passport and visa service centres run by BLS International on behalf of the Indian Embassy collect applications for emergency travel certificates at 14 centres across the country. Yesterday, the Abu Dhabi office had received only four applications by 2.30pm. There is a fee of Dh60 for the outpass, and an additional fee levied by BLS of Dh36.

Jamil Ahmed Khan, the Pakistan ambassador, said that during previous amnesties, 50,000 Pakistanis had applied in 1996, 25,000 in 2003 and a similar number in 2007. Based on past experience and the low turnout on the first day of the current amnesty, he estimated that fewer than 50,000 will apply for the programme.

Anand Bardan, a welfare official at the Indian Embassy, said the low turnout could be because there are not many illegals, or that the amnesty is not well known.

Amnesty seekers who have valid passports may also approach local immigration authorities directly with copies of their passport and visa. If the passport copy is not available, a passport number with place and date of issue and visa copy should be provided. If an applicant has neither a copy nor details of his passport, other valid identity cards may be used to prove citizenship.

Noor Ahmed, an amnesty seeker from Pakistan, turned up to the mission and obtained an emergency certificate after fleeing from his sponsor in Madinat Zayed in the Western Region three months ago because he was not paid his wages. He has no passport because his sponsored retained it.

“Now I want to legalise my status and return to Pakistan,” he said.

In Ajman, 100 illegal residents arrived at Ministry of Interior offices by midday, said Brig Gen Mohammed Abdulla Alwan, director of Naturalisation and Foreign Affairs for the emirate.

“The turnout was huge and we expect it to increase even more in the coming days,” he said.

His counterpart in Umm Al Quwain, Lt Col Khaled Yousef, said the turnout there was average.

In Sharjah the director, Brig Abdullah bin Sahoo, said illegal residents were being received at two centres. “This is a golden chance to all illegals in the country and no one should miss it,” he said. “Once the deadline has passed we are going to start intensive campaigns to catch all illegals.”

anwar@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Yasin Kakande