Prisoners hope for jail time at home

Most, but not all, of the 1,200 Indian inmates here are keen on the rumoured prisoner exchange treaty between their homeland and the UAE.

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DUBAI // Most Indian convicts say they would rather finish their prison sentences in a jail at home.

After Indian authorities announced a prisoner exchange agreement with the UAE could be signed next month, prisoners said they would rather be close to their families while serving time.

"Everyone is waiting in anticipation," said Srinivas, who was jailed for a year for a fatal traffic accident. "There is a lot of talk inside the prison about it. Everyone wants to know when the paper will be signed."

Authorities said a date for signing the treaty would soon be set.

"The agreement has been ready for a few months now," said MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador. "It is awaiting signing from both sides.

"Recently we have recommended some dates to our ministry of overseas affairs in the month of November so that the Ministry of Interior of UAE can go and sign. It is in very advanced stages."

There are 1,200 Indian inmates in UAE jails, including 40 women, and the treaty could allow up to 80 per cent of them to return home to continue serving their sentences.

Only one Emirati is in an Indian prison. Mr Lokesh said the prisoner was still on trial, and would not disclose the nature of the charges.

"It would be good if I could do the same time in my country," said BK, a cleaner convicted of murder and serving the second year of a life sentence in Al Aweer Central Prison.

"I would like to be closer to my family. My only communication with them is on the phone as they cannot afford to travel to see me."

Another convict said he was worried his children would not recognise him after 25 years.

"If given a choice, I would like to finish my imprisonment back home," said BM, who was jailed five years ago. "I have not seen my family for seven years and my children do not remember me any more.

"My youngest son was born after I left for Dubai. If I am in India, they can at least visit me and get to know me."

His wife agreed. "Even if the jails in India are crammed or other facilities are poor, it is better he comes back," said Kamala, who did not want to disclose her full name.

Mr Lokesh said he did not know the exact terms of the exchange deal, but UAE prison aid workers said they thought the swap agreement was unlikely to apply to convicts on death row, those accused of financial crimes or those who had to pay blood money.

Yet not all prisoners are pleased by the prospect. Many have lied to relatives about the reasons for their sentences.

"They tell their family they had some problem with their sponsor or they are in jail because of a wrong charge," said Anil, a former prisoner who served more than two years in a road accident case.

"If they get transferred to India, their families will know it's their fault. Their whole village will know and everyone will talk about it."

Some prisoners conceal their imprisonment, calling home from the jail public phones with calling card numbers supplied by friends, and some even have friends who send money home for them.

Volunteers who visit the prisoners said the fear of family disapproval would keep several prisoners in the UAE, but many would still opt to finish their jail terms in India.

"When there is a death in the family they cry here because they can do nothing," said a volunteer who did not want to be identified. "If they are in India, at least they can see their families a few times a year."