DUBAI// More than 2,000 Pakistani inmates in UAE jails may serve out their sentences in their home country after the ratification yesterday of a landmark prisoner exchange agreement.
The agreement applies only to prisoners convicted of minor offences and with at least six months of their sentence remaining. Those in jail for serious offences such as crimes against the state, murder or embezzlement will not be eligible.
The deal will "help resolve social and emotional problems of Pakistani inmates as they would be sent to Pakistan, preferably closer to their home towns, where they would be able to see their loved ones frequently and will have a chance to plan for reintegration into the society," the Pakistan embassy in Abu Dhabi said yesterday.
Negotiations on the agreement have been taking place since 2010, and it was provisionally signed by the interior ministers of both countries in Abu Dhabi in February.
Formal ratification, the final hurdle, was completed at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday and the agreement will be effective from the end of this month.
Officials from both countries will now draw up guidelines on how the process will work.
About 2,000 Pakistani prisoners may be eligible for transfer the former Pakistan ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Jamil Ahmed Khan, said last year.
Nearly 1,500 Pakistanis are in jail in Abu Dhabi and just under 900 in Dubai. It is not known if any UAE nationals are serving sentences in Pakistan.
Mobisher Rabbani, editor of Quiet Diplomacy, the monthly international affairs magazine, said last November that the length of time taken to conclude the agreement was not surprising.
"This is a very sensitive matter between the two countries. They want to make sure everything is done according to the law and there are no loopholes."
A similar agreement between the UAE and India was signed in New Delhi in November 2011 and ratified by the UAE in February this year.
There are up to 1,000 Indians in UAE prisons, according to the Indian embassy.
Despite the February ratification, distribution of the application forms has only recently begun. The Indian ambassador, MK Lokesh, said last month his staff were distributing forms to jails across the UAE.
The forms require an inmate's name, reason for imprisonment, time served and passport details.
As with the Pakistan/UAE agreement, those convicted in murder cases, of drug offences or financial crimes are not eligible. Each case will be scrutinised by embassy officials to assess if it meets the terms of the agreement.