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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Visa amnesty gives fresh hope to Syrians in the UAE

The one-year visa extension means a chance to work and live for those displaced from their war-torn homes

A move to extend lapsed visas for citizens of war-torn nations will offer relief for many in the UAE. Reuters
A move to extend lapsed visas for citizens of war-torn nations will offer relief for many in the UAE. Reuters

A Syrian national who has found sanctuary in the UAE from the troubles of his homeland says a move to offer a one-year extension to citizens of war-torn countries living in the country offers sharp relief from 18 months of fear.

The UAE Cabinet, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, adopted a resolution that will grant citizens of countries in which there are wars and natural disasters extendable one-year permits – regardless of their condition of residence – from August 1 to October 31 this year.

The decision means that those affected will be able to remain in the UAE for a further two months if they come forward, declare their illegal status and apply for a stay permit.

Those who come forward during the grace period will not face legal consequences and will be exempt from any imposed fines.

The news that the government will grant extendable one-year residence permits to citizens from war-torn countries has brought hope to residents across the country.

Saeed Al Rashidi, the Acting Director of Foreigners Affairs at the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, said the new law could apply to Yemen, Syria and Libya. In an interview with Sky News Arabia, he urged residents to register and said they would be eligible for state benefits such as free education for children and medical treatment for the elderly.

For "Omar", a Syrian living in Ras Al Khaimah, the announcement offers respite from concerns he may have to leave the country he has called home for half of his life.

His residency expired when his employer’s company closed in November 2016. Subsequent employers have not granted him residency.

“It’s not easy at all,” said Omar, a 36-year-old who has lived in the UAE since he was 18. “In the first couple of months, I was just sitting in the house and not even going out to the Baqala or anywhere because I thought if I go out, I’ll be in trouble.”

Omar survived on part-time work. Like many of his Syrian friends, he found companies reluctant to hire him because of his nationality.

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“Some companies refuse to employ Syrians because the process can be a bit hard, and they may have to apply a few times,” he said. “It’s a waste of time and money for them, so some companies say they don’t want to employ Syrians, even when I tell them I’ve been in the country for 18 years.”

With a mother and sister to support in Syria, he decide to set up an outdoor education company in Ras Al Khaimah with two Syrian friends. He invested Dh23,000 from his savings into the venture.

The economic department in Ras Al Khaimah granted the company a licence, but applications for three residence visas were declined by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs.

Omar’s next employer failed to apply for his residency visa. He stayed with them for a year before switching companies. Omar has racked up more than Dh32,000 in fines for overstaying his residency visa.

His new employer has promised to obtain a residency visa for him. Nonetheless, the amnesty will ease the uncertainty of the last 18 months.

“I got the news in Eid and even my friends were cheering and clapping a lot for me,” he said. “It was a good moment.

“I’ve lived here half my life actually. I know more about this country than Syria. I feel this country is home. All my life is here. I don’t think I can go back and anyway, you know the situation in Syria. If I go there, I don’t think I can succeed at all.”