Accepting 'most vulnerable' a major challenge

A lack of social acceptance for reformed drug addicts and former prisoners is blocking their reintegration into their communities.

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DUBAI // A lack of social acceptance for reformed drug addicts, HIV and Aids sufferers and former prisoners is blocking their reintegration into their communities, a survey has found. And for drug addicts and prisoners, those chances are made slimmer by a lack of rehabilitation facilities. A year-long study by the Community Development Authority (CDA) found that only 13 per cent of Emiratis considered it important to improve social inclusion of HIV/Aids sufferers, and only 16 per cent of Emiratis found it important to include reformed drug addicts.

Dr Maryam Matar, the director general of the CDA, said: "We now have to look at how ready the community is to include the most vulnerable. The biggest challenge for the community is accepting ex-drug addicts and HIV/Aids victims... more needs to be done regarding awareness, and especially rehabilitation. "There are very few rehab centres, especially where people are treated as people, not simply as patients."

The study surveyed 2,561 households, including 714 Emiratis, 620 Arabs, 1,042 Asians and 148 westerners, across the emirate. It found that Emiratis were more than willing to improve social inclusion of orphans (96 per cent), widows (94 per cent), and other Arabs (90 per cent). But only 46 per cent found it important to include westerners; compared with 48 per cent who said social inclusion of domestic workers important.

The study also showed that westerners and Emiratis volunteered the least for charities (11 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively). "It really is so sad that the figures are so low," Dr Matar said. "The Emirati culture is about helping other people, which makes you a good person and a good Muslim. "Everybody is working so much that they do not have enough time to then go and volunteer. In addition, people don't know where to go or what to do, or who to contact if they do want to. We need to make volunteering an attitude, not an obligation."

The CDA has established a volunteer information department and is working with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority to introduce an obligatory hour of community service for students. The study showed that another area of contention was equality among nationalities, especially with government and judicial services. Of the Asians surveyed, 57 per cent said they were treated equally by government departments. The rest said there was inequality in being forced to queue in different lines, or with the lack of personnel being able to speak their language.

More than a third of Asians also found they were not treated fairly or equally by Dubai Police and judicial authorities. The study will be run over the next few years to ensure the CDA and Dubai Government can improve on social cohesion of communities in the emirate. The second part of the study, which will be more detailed, has already begun.