AJMAN // Mohammed Jamua Yousuf was a young man when he left his home in Somalia and travelled to Ajman to make a new life for himself. Now, more than half a century later, he could soon be leaving forever.
The 74-year-old arrived in the emirate in the 1950s but has been without a residency visa since 1992. For more than 20 years he has been living illegally, in constant fear of being jailed or deported.
Now, the two-month amnesty for illegal residents has presented the former soldier with the chance to return to his native country without facing hefty fines or fees, but at a cost of leaving his home in the UAE.
"This has been an important opportunity, especially for people like me who don't have the money to pay fines for staying illegally. But I am worried there is no one to take care of me back in Somalia and my health is not good," he said.
The amnesty allows illegal residents to leave the UAE without paying fines. It began on December 4 and will continue until February 4.
Mr Yousuf joined the British Army when he came to the Arabian Gulf, signing up to protect what was then the Trucial States. He was posted to Yemen for two years and served alongside many Emiratis before being sent back to the UAE.
He left the armed forces in 1974 and began working at a transport company owned by a former military colleague. In 1992 Mr Yousuf lost his job and needed to arrange his own residency visa. However, he said he was tricked and lost the Dh3,600 fee to a conman. He took the case to court but the fraudster disappeared.
Since then he has been unable to find official, regular work and has lived as an illegal resident, taking any job that came his way.
Over the years his health worsened to the point where he could no longer work and became reliant on charity.
Mr Yousuf now lives in a single room in one of the run-down buildings that make up Ajman's Karama neighbourhood. The room was given to him by an Emirati friend, who also sends his maid to take Mr Yousuf his meals each day.
Now an old man, he has health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure and is bedridden most days. He depends on the goodwill of the Somali community to buy medicine to treat his conditions.
Ahmed Mohammed, who helps Mr Yousuf, said the whole community was indebted to him because of his good character and the help he extended to others when they arrived in the UAE.
"We all wish him well and want to help in any way we can," he said. "The trouble is our helping capacity is also limited. No one among us can sponsor him on a residence visa as he is not our close family member. People were worried he could have had a huge fine for staying so long as an illegal."
After so many years spent abroad, Mr Yousuf fears his friends and family in Somalia have either been killed in the country's decades of conflict or that those still alive might simply not remember him.
Mr Yousuf, who never married, said: "All I have in this world is Allah and the people of UAE who have always helped me.
"Without the UAE and its people I think I may die so soon. And if am to die, I want to die and be buried in this good and blessed land."
Brig Mohammed Abdullah Alwan, director of the Naturalisation and Foreign Affairs Department in Ajman, said earlier this month that 1,305 illegal residents had responded to the amnesty and presented themselves to the authorities to claim exit permits.
He said the department expected more people to come forward at the end of the month, as many were waiting until the last days of the programme.