Photos: Illustration by Soumyadip Sinha; Arun Abraham
By Shevlin Sebastian
It is a Monday morning in Dubai. But Shreya, 16, and Anil, 14, are sitting at home and watching TV, instead of being in school. That’s because their father does not have the money to pay their school fees. Jacob George was working in an insurance company as a senior accountant for a few years. “But I wanted to earn more,” he says.
So, he quit the company, took a bank loan and started a travel company. But his timing was wrong. Dubai has been in an economic downturn for the past few years. “The firm did not do well,” he says. And soon Jacob found himself in financial trouble. Creditors came knocking at his door.
Kochi native and Dubai-based lawyer Arun Abraham is the founder of ‘Stranded Abroad’, a not-for-profit firm. He set it up in May, last year, to help Malayalis who are in legal trouble. Jacob approached Arun and, somehow, the latter managed to keep him out of jail. But because he is under a travel ban, Jacob is stuck in Dubai.
It was because of cases like Jacob that Arun felt an urge to help these people who are in limbo. “I have lived in Dubai for many years,” he says. “During the course of my work, many Malayalis have approached me. In most cases, the breadwinner is in jail. His family back home in Kerala is the one who actually suffers. They have no clue about what to do. There was a lacuna. They needed someone to guide and assist them. So, through my organisation, I provide the advice and link them to lawyers.”
Arun has set up a network of fifteen Arab lawyers who provide their services for free. “They are friends and people of a similar mindset,” he says. He also links them to community leaders who provide moral support.
As for the different offences that Malayalis are charged with, they include financial misappropriation, unpaid debt, drunk driving, visa violations, overstay issues, and drug-related offences.
Junaid Malik, 20, who was working in an IT firm, was having grass (cannabis) in his home. The police arrested him and did a medical test. Usually, drugs stay in the system for two weeks. They got his name from a friend, Mani, who was arrested earlier. They forced Mani to give up the names of his friends who took drugs with him.
He received a ten month sentence, because he is a first-time offender. Following the completion, Junaid was deported.
All these problems put the family under severe financial stress. For drunk driving, the fine is a steep 30,000 dirhams (Rs 5.7 lakh). “Sadly, it may lead to loss of employment and a steep drop in income,” says Arun.
The only silver lining is that the Dubai government has introduced a new rule regarding bounced cheques a couple of years ago. “Now if the amount is below 200,000 dirhams, you only have to pay a fine,” says Arun.
So what is the way forward? Arun suggests that the Indian associations in Dubai should hold refresher classes for Malayalis so they know the legal hurdles they might have to face if something goes wrong. “Too many Malayalis are unaware of the dangers,” says Arun. “They take loans casually. They give cheques without enough balance in their accounts. They drink and drive. They succumb to the greed of wanting more money. All this can cause immense damage. You have to be cautious if you want to live a hassle-free life in Dubai.”
(Some names have been changed)
(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)