x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Pakistan-UAE prisoner swap deal to be in effect 'within days'

Pakistan ratifies prisoner exchange agreement that would allow its citizens to serve the remainder of their sentences at home.

ABU DHABI // Pakistan ratified a prisoner exchange agreement with the UAE last week - and officials expect it to be implemented soon.

The countries signed an agreement in February allowing Pakistani prisoners in the UAE to serve out their terms at home.

According to the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi, there are about 1,000 Pakistanis in UAE prisons, and the mission is trying to free those who have been jailed for minor cases or small fines.

The Pakistani community has been collecting donations to help pay the fines of those in jail.

Last year, community aid helped release 25 prisoners. This year, female prisoners and a boy in Al Aweer jail are next in line to be helped.

Ahsan Reza, deputy head of the embassy, said his country hoped to implement the prisoner exchange "in coming days".

He said that as per international law, the agreement had to be ratified by both countries.

"From our side, the government ratified [the agreement] a couple of days ago," Mr Reza said. "It will come into force very soon."

Pakistani officials make weekly visits to various jails in the UAE to gather information to lend assistance.

"The embassy takes special interest to help those, particularly, who are there for small charges," Mr Reza said.

Rizwan Fancy, the community welfare secretary at the Pakistan Association in Dubai, said: "Many Pakistanis are languishing in UAE jails because of minor cases and small fines, and they are waiting for some help to reach them. We try our best in our capacity.

"We don't know exactly what the amount of fines they have is. There are some cases where fines start from Dh500,000, so we can't do much for such cases.

"We only help those who are stuck there because of small lapses and fines."

Mr Fancy said there was no particular number of inmates the association was aiming to help. Many of the prisoners are jailed because of bounced cheques for amounts less than Dh5,000.

"Whatever the amount we receive from our community, we spend that accordingly," he said.

According to a list the association received, there are 19 women and one boy in Al Aweer jail.

"I don't know for which cases they are behind bars," Mr Fancy said. "But we would try to help them.

"We are waiting for data from concerned jail authorities of the government. Once we are going to get it we can say OK, these people can be set free."

He appealed to the Pakistani community to help their compatriots.

Mr Fancy emphasised that the funds would be spent judiciously.

"If any person from the community wishes to scrutinise details we can provide it all," he said. "It's very transparent."