UAE Helping Hands: Syrian cab driver has not seen oldest son for seven years

"My wife cries for him every minute of the day,” said Abu Mahmoud, who was also in a car accident that fractured his back and spine

Alruwayda, with her son Abdul Hadi and her husband Mahmoud Nimr in the background with her other son Rahed. The family is asking for donations to help pay for rent and expenses in Deira, Dubai. (Leslie Pableo for The National)

Abu Mahmoud and his siblings once had a dream of bringing their children and wives from Syria to the UAE, away from daily bombings and turmoil.

Four brothers came to the UAE around seven years ago and rented a small apartment in Sharjah. Working as cab drivers they paid their rent and soon applied to bring their young children and wives to live with them, but were told that drivers were not allowed to sponsor their families.

“I paid a bank deposit of Dh5,000 and brought my wife with me,” said Mr Mahmoud.

At the time, the couple had one son who they left back in Syria because they could not afford the tickets.

“I left him with his grandmother when he was a baby and told her that I would send for them once I had enough money,” he said. It has now been seven years since he had seen his son.

“I don’t think he even remembers what me and his mother look like,” he said, in between tears. Mr Mahmoud now has two other sons in the UAE who have never seen their older brother.

Mr Mahmoud's siblings, who had rented what was supposed to be the house that would bring them all together, lost their jobs and will be returning to Syria, leaving him with the burden of the three bedroom apartment they rented together.

“We were all supporting each other and paying our share of the rent,” he said.

The apartment is in Mr Mahmoud’s name, and once his siblings stopped paying, he was unable to pay the monthly installments. He still works as a taxi driver and earns around Dh4,000 per month. To make matters worse, Mr Mahmoud was hit by a car while driving in June.

He was not responsible for the accident, but his spine and neck were fractured. He is on sick leave and undergoing treatment for his spine and neck.

Since the accident, he's been in a lot of pain and his insurance doesn’t cover his medical bills, so Mr Mahmoud took out a Dh7.000 loan.

In addition to that, he was evicted from his apartment and has to pay the owner Dh32,000 for rent arrears. “They filed a police case against me and now there is a warrant for my arrest,” he says. “I’ve lived in the UAE for seven years now and not once was I in trouble with the law or have I resorted to accepting charity, but I am desperate and can’t get out of this on my own.”

Because of the eviction, Mr Mahmoud moved into shared accommodation with his wife and two sons, aged 4 and 7, but has to also pay another Dh20,000 for the rent. He also can not afford to register his son in school.


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“What breaks my heart the most is that I haven’t looked into the eyes of my eldest son in more than seven years. My wife cries for him every minute of the day,” he said.

To clear his debts, Mr Mahmoud needs around Dh60,000. “All their dreams have been destroyed and the family are in terrible state," so Mr Mahmoud borrows money from friends and neighbors to pay for his treatment.

"He can not pay for his rent or loan,” says Hisham Al Zahrani from Dar Al Ber. “The situation in Syria makes matters worse for them and they are constantly worried about their family back home. They expect a call at any moment telling them that their hometown has been bombed and their family killed,” he said.


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