India's expats to get Dh7.5m safety net for jail release

A Dh7.5 million government welfare fund may be used to free Indian women prisoners from jail and to help expatriates who find themselves in financial distress.

September 14. Recently released Indian nationals from front to back, Srinivas Ambati (30), Anil Kumar (41) and Sakeer Hussein (36) photographed at the Indian Consulate. September 14, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)
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DUBAI // An Indian government welfare fund containing more than Dh7.5 million could soon be used to help free female prisoners from UAE jails.

Indian authorities will also recommend better use of the "underutilised" Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) to help expatriates who are reeling under debts.

Yesterday's announcement follows the establishment of a private fund last week to help families in Dubai and the Northern Emirates tide over financial problems, following a spate of suicides.

"There are cases where we could intervene on humanitarian grounds", the Indian Ambassador MK Lokesh told reporters yesterday at the India Club in Dubai. "There are not very many women in jails. We have to look at what kind of prisoners are there ... There are needy and deserving cases, where this fund can be used. We are in the process of collecting information."

The new fund is expected to provide legal and financial assistance to facilitate prisoners' release. The move is subject to the approval of the Indian government.

More than 1,200 Indians are in UAE jails. Forty of them are women - mostly housemaids - who have been accused of various crimes. Some women have been jailed after their sponsors filed complaints.

The money for the ICWF has been collected since February 2009, in the form of a Dh10 fee levied on expatriate Indians for passport and attestation services that are provided by the missions in the Emirates.

The services include issuing fresh passports, renewing passports and attesting various documents.

Of the Dh 7.5m raised, Dh6m was collected by the consulate in Dubai, which serves Indian nationals in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. The remaining Dh1.5m was collected by the embassy in Abu Dhabi.

"There is no point in accumulating the money. It has to be spent on welfare. There is a need for expanding the scope of this fund," Mr Lokesh said.

The missions will examine other welfare initiatives to help the community. The recommendations will be sent to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in New Delhi for approval.

ICWF was first set up in the UAE, after which a similar fund was introduced in Indian missions all over the world. In the Emirates, it is used to provide tickets for stranded workers. The fund is aimed at providing interim financial support for workers who have not received wages on time, to help them with legal assistance, to repatriate dead bodies, and to help people who have medical problems.

The fund is also used to man the Indian Workers Resource Centre, a helpline launched last November to help blue-collar workers.

Mr Lokesh said he hoped the money in the fund could be used to increase the present interim maintenance support to workers from 15 to 30 days.

Last week, the Indian Community Welfare Committee started a fund to help expatriate families in Dubai and the Northern Emirates who found themselves in financial distress to pay tuition and medical fees, buy household provisions, and provide temporary shelter.

After the initial contribution of Dh500,000 from a businessman, the welfare group has managed to raise an equal amount.

Officials also announced yesterday that visitors to India will have to fill online visa applications and submit them at visa centres from January next year. The online system is being rolled out in all Indian missions worldwide. It is part of an effort to improve internal security.

In the UAE, it will be introduced from today on a voluntary basis, but will be mandatory from next year.

The missions receive about 80,000 visa applications, mostly from Emirati visitors to India, every year.

Indian authorities also said that a delayed online system to facilitate the hiring of blue-collar workers should be launched next month. The system, which was supposed to launch last month, will create a database of Indian labourers to help prevent contract substitution and boost interaction between Indian and UAE authorities.

Contract substitution occurs when a worker signs a labour contract in his home country, but upon arrival in the UAE is forced to sign an altered contract that provides lower wages and longer hours.

The new system will take effect after technical glitches have been resolved.