DUBAI // Business leaders are joining a jewellery boss's Ramadan campaign to clear the debts of prisoners who have served their time but remain in jail because they cannot afford to pay fines.
"Everyone deserves a second chance," said property developer Parvez Khan, chairman of Pacific Ventures.
Mr Khan paid Dh45,550 towards the debts of 40 prisoners from Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Nepal.
He was inspired to act after reading about Firoz Merchant, founder and chairman of Pure Gold, who is spending Dh1.5million during Ramadan to settle the debts of 1,000 prisoners and buy their flight tickets home.
"I thought, 'I must join this'," Mr Khan said. "Now some of my friends also want to give money to help. Many prisoners had good jobs once but got stuck because of non-payments. I hope to do this all year, not just during Ramadan."
Other businessmen want to partner with local charities who help workers jailed in accidental death cases involving diya, or blood money.
"I have desired for some time to help out at least one UAE prisoner," said Suraj Mulani, the owner of a Dubai dry-cleaning company.
"People are struck with misfortune in many cases and I hope to help out with time and money," Mr Mulani said.
Mr Merchant has paid about Dh1m to clear the debts of about 700 prisoners, 100 of them from Fujairah Central Prison.
"It is heartening to see people from the private sector come forward," Mr Merchant said. "Some call to say they can give money for 10 tickets, some want to help 50 prisoners. They say they always wanted to help, but never knew how to."
Mr Merchant receives the names of prisoners in need from the Al Faraj Relief Fund, affiliated with the Ministry of Interior.
"We have an Arabic saying, 'al adala al ejtimaya' [everybody gets their share], and so also in this way the business people are helping the poor," said Lt Col Ahmed Hamdan Al Zayuodi, the prisons chief at Fujairah Police.
"Some prisoners have to pay back Dh10,000, some Dh20,000 because they did not have enough money in their business. Many people are also calling up to pay for tickets."
A retired prison official said it was a growing movement.
"This is how society can help each other; it shows how involved people can get in the place they live in," he said.
"Anyone can have a problem, especially in their business. During the holy month everybody wants to do good things and central jails take the opportunity to focus on this. Also people know exactly where their money is going and who they are giving it to."
In the next phase of Mr Merchant's campaign he will pay the debts of labourers jailed in other GCC countries, starting with Saudi Arabia. He is speaking to officials and consulates to find out likely numbers and to frame a process.
"These workers need support for air tickets or have fines they can't pay because their visas have expired," he said. "The process will take a little more time because embassies have to check whether the prisoners belong to their country if they don't have passports. It will require a lot of coordination. But I believe it can be done."