KOCHI: It is a Monday morning in Dubai. But Shreya, 16, and Anil, 14, are at home watching TV, instead of being in school. This is because their father Jacob George does not have the money to pay off their school fees. Jacob was a senior accountant in an insurance company for a few years. “But I wanted to earn more,” he says.So, he quit the company, availed himself of 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 Malayalees 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 out these people. “I have lived in Dubai for several years,” he says. “During the course of my work, many Malayalees have approached me. In majority of the cases, the breadwinner is in jail. His family mebers back home in Kerala are the ones who actually suffer. They are clueless on 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 15 Arab lawyers. “They are friends and like-minded persons,” he says. He also links them to community leaders . The offences Malayalees are charged with, include financial misappropriation, unpaid debt, drink drive, visa violations, overstay issues, and drug-related offences.Junaid Malik, 20, employed in an IT firm, was found to be in possession of grass (cannabis) at his home. Since he is a first-time offender, he got only a 10-month sentence. After serving out the prison term, Junaid was deported.
All these problems put the family under severe financial stress. For drink driving, the fine is a stiff 30,000 dirhams (`5.7 lakh). “Sadly, it may lead to loss of employment and a steep drop in income,” says Arun.
The lone silver lining is that the Dubai Government has introduced a new rule regarding bounced cheques. “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 Indian associations in Dubai should hold refresher classes for Malayalees.“Many Malayalis are unaware of the danger involved. They avail themselves of loans casually. They succumb to the greed of wanting more money.You have to be cautious if you want to lead a hassle-free life in Dubai.” (Some names have been changed)
During the course of my work, many Malayalees approached me. They needed someone to guide and assist them. So I provide advice and link them with lawyers. You have to be cautious if you want to lead a hassle-free life in Dubai
Arun Abraham, ‘Stranded Abroad’ founder