A computer repair shop owner in Dubai who suffered a stroke when his business went bust five years ago is going home to Kerala.
Tomichan Thomas, 63, left Dubai for Kochi on Thursday with the help of community workers, church volunteers and UAE and Indian officials.
A UAE health official convinced Mr Thomas’s landlord to waive overdue office rent and lift a travel ban.
Mr Thomas requires a wheelchair because he cannot move his legs and suffers visual impairments.
He flew back on an Air India ticket paid for by the Indian consulate.
"I have not seen my family for so long. I am very happy to finally go back," he told The National on Thursday.
Emirati health official pitched in to help
The man's resolve and determination brought groups of people together to support him.
“We have been trying for very long to get his cases cleared but it was only because of the kindness of a local lady that Thomas will go home,” said George Varghese, who works as a driver and also assists workers in Dubai.
“His family will remember, all their life, what she has done.”
Mr Thomas worked in Dubai since 2014 and ran an electronic repair shop that fixed computers, televisions and laptops.
His business collapsed two years later and he was imprisoned for six months in 2016 and 2017 when security cheques for an office lease bounced because of insufficient funds.
In the same matter, a 2018 rent dispute case in the civil court went against him and he was ordered to pay Dh138,000 to the landlord.
But Mr Thomas was unable to work after he suffered a stroke and seizures that left him with limited mobility.
The main hurdle was lifting a travel ban after the 2018 civil court judgment.
A volunteer approached a Dubai health official in Rashid Hospital where Mr Thomas was treated for his first seizure in 2016.
Ayesha Al Kindi, head of case management at Rashid Hospital, confirmed that she had spoken to the owner of a property company to waive the case.
She also went to see Mr Thomas in Dubai Hospital to verify his condition as requested by the property owner.
Mr Thomas was admitted to hospital in May after volunteers noticed that he suffered seizures and that the paralysis had also affected his right leg.
Ms Al Kindi was initially hesitant to intervene since Mr Thomas was not being treated at the hospital where she works, but agreed once volunteers explained the case.
“We are one team, Dubai or Rashid or Latifa Hospital, all social workers work together,” she said.
“People came to me and said it is a very difficult case. I have been in the case management section for 15 years and we do our best to help people.
“I saw the patient was in a very bad situation. The [landlord] is also a good person. He asked me to assess the case. After I explained the patient’s situation, he said he would cancel the case.
“I worked for some months on this because the amount is big and finally the case was closed.”
The community came together to raise funds
Mr Verghese contacted other social workers to make the story known.
“He cannot walk, is blind, needs help to eat and wear his clothes, and very often has memory loss. He needs to go home because only his family can take care of him,” Mr Varghese said.
St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai and the Indian consulate were among the groups that contributed towards medication, living expenses and rent.
The amount also paid for a helper to watch over the Indian expatriate because he required assistance with daily routine tasks.
The funds also settled Dh10,000 in fines that accumulated, including a bounced cheque for non-delivery of supplies.
Dubai residents no longer face jail for bounced cheques or failing to pay rent but the initial cases against Mr Thomas predate the change in rules.
Debtors are not put through the court system now because this is treated as a misdemeanour case subject to a financial penalty, after a Dubai Courts decision effective from December 2017.
Joseph Bobby, another community worker from Kerala, had approached Ms Al Kindi.
“After his attacks, Thomas could not work because he could not walk,” he said. “Many people helped to manage his stay when he had no money.”
Mr Thomas will be taken in an ambulance to a hospital in southern Kottayam on arrival in Kerala.
He suffers from other medical conditions including inflammation of the spinal cord, blockage of the arteries supplying the brain, chronic diabetes and he needs cataract surgeries in both eyes.
Box of dates in sparse luggage
Fr Lennie Connully, of St Mary’s Church, said the aid was on compassionate grounds.
“This is an extreme case, the man is handicapped and in trouble,” he said.
“The church is not just a place to pray, we also care for people in need. He could not pay what was owed because he is semi-paralysed. He will continue to need support but being with his family will be good for him.”
Although Mr Thomas returns home penniless, he is not despondent about the future.
He had three shirts, one pair of trousers and a jacket to pack in a small luggage trolley that volunteers bought and filled with a box of dates and a few T-shirts.
His family land will probably be mortgaged to help pay for his treatment.
Funds collected in Dubai will be sufficient for a few weeks of medical care in the hospital.
“I am not worried about my treatment or anything,” Mr Thomas said. “I am just happy to finally go home.”