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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Strict new rules could stop volunteers signing up for community programmes

Volunteers in Dubai must now be registered with the Community and Development Authority

Dr Susan Aylott, who works of Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi, feeds cats on Lulu Island. She says it is unclear where volunteer groups now stand after the new law was issued on Sunday. Christopher Pike / The National
Dr Susan Aylott, who works of Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi, feeds cats on Lulu Island. She says it is unclear where volunteer groups now stand after the new law was issued on Sunday. Christopher Pike / The National

A new law to regulate volunteering could dissuade people from wanting to help out their communities due to confusion over how the rules will be implemented.

The Community and Development Authority must now be contacted ahead of any volunteering programme, following an announcement by the Dubai Government on Sunday.

It has thrown into doubt the future work of volunteers who give up their time to help causes that are under resourced and require the assistance of kind hearted communities.

Animal welfare is one area to have greatly benefited from a co-ordinated programme in Abu Dhabi, which is not subject to the new laws.

Dr Susan Aylott works with Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi - a group of volunteers and vets who run feeding stations and have developed a widespread trap, neuter and release programme in the capital.

“It looks as though no one can volunteer in Dubai unless you are an organised charity,” she said.

Dr Aylott said it was unclear where volunteer groups now stood and if the law is also applicable to organised community events, such as clean-ups.

“People will want to know if they can still donate their time with friends for a good cause, and if not what they have to do to comply with the new rules.”

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In future, volunteers in Dubai will have to inform the CDA of ahead of any voluntary work, carry official ID cards and keep records of their activities.

Any complaints or litigation related to the volunteering agreement will be overseen by a special committee.

Several animal welfare groups in Dubai rely heavily on volunteers to aid their services, so they will want clarity on what volunteers have to do to comply with the new rules.

“We’ve recently been called in to help with situations in Sharjah and Dubai, so this will have massive implications on how we deal with things in the future,” Dr Aylott said.

“AWAD is looking at setting up another field clinic to sterilize and treat all the animals that need help. A mobile unit would help us to cover a wider area.

“If this is just for registered charities and their volunteers to license organisations then fair enough, but this would make it more difficult for people to do good in their community

“The whole idea about a community venture is based around volunteering, and this seems to be restricting that.

“Volunteers will want to know what the potential implications are before they get involved with a project.”

A social worker, who has taken part in programmes organised with the consulate to support labourers in Dubai, said the rules appeared to be an extension of the charity law that came into effect in 2016.

“It appears to be a reframing of the rules that came into effect three years ago that stated that a charity must be registered with the CDA or with an organization that is registered with the government,” he said.

The law was introduced to ensure only legitimate fundraising and charity work was being carried out. The aid worker said the volunteer law was likely being implemented for the same reason.

He said he had witnessed first-hand, occasions whereby volunteers misused an organization’s name.

“This move could be because they [the government] received similar complaints. Sometimes a person may seek to exploit the organization’s name or raise funds without being authorized. A person may not be a volunteer but a guest at an event and then try to pass that as volunteer work.

“With a card to identify volunteers, this makes it possible to check that the person is indeed a legitimate volunteer.”

*additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam