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Meet Dubai's guardian angel for desperate expat families

By V M Sathish

Uma Padmanabhan has been stationed at the Al Aweer Immigration Centre and attends to an average of three to four distressed Indian families per working day and sometimes the number is more.

The housewife-turned-social worker has been very active in serving her community, especially during previous amnesty periods.

She gets help from the UAE government, hospital staff, Indian Consulate and the Indian expatriate community. “I am getting support from the UAE government, especially the Economic and Immigration Departments.

"Usually, in the case of chronically sick illegal workers, they charge only the minimum fine and waive the hospital bill. Special thanks to Major Mohammed Al Merri, director-general of DNRD,” the social worker added.

“Today, we have an Indian family in Al Awir, who wants to avail of the amnesty scheme. The family, which consists of a father, mother and two boys below sixteen years of age, wants to take an outpass and return home. They have their passports but could not renew the visas for various reasons,” she said.

Many of these families have been living without visas for two to three years. “On an average, we are getting three to four Indian families. There are also families from Egypt, Sudan and some other countries, availing the amnesty scheme,” she told Emirates 24|7 from the Al Awir centre.

Indian Consulate officials said many Indian families have come forward to make use of the amnesty.

Rajan, head of an Indian family in Ajman, is going through the amnesty scheme, after his wife and two children were saved from suicide by the timely intervention of Uma Padmanabhan and the media. 

Among the other distressed family cases that Uma handled includes a teenage girl school student who was abandoned by her parents and who fled the country fearing creditors. “The father of ‘G’ was running an educational institution in Dubai. When financial problems started mounting, he left the country with his son and wife, leaving behind the 13-year old daughter. 

She was living here without her parents or  passport. I have helped her repatriation to India and the Dubai Immigration Department has helped in such repatriations. 

“After she reached home, the girl from Thiruvananthapuram called me to say thank you. I am happy that she could join her family, six months after they left her alone in Dubai,” Uma said.

In the case of Ajman-based Rajan family, the woman was mentally ill and she would lock the toilet door or try to jump from the balcony to commit suicide. “We took her to the Al Amal Mental Hospital and was treated and repatriated to India. Now the husband is also going back to join the family in Kerala,” she added.

In the cases of chronically ill people without documents, friends or relatives, or unclaimed dead bodies or road accident victims, Uma comes forward with help. She has helped repatriation of cancer and kidney patients and even HIV positive Indian workers, especially from Andhra Pradesh. Their families, residing in remote places like Karimnagar and Nizamabad,  do not have even money to make a phone call to Dubai to know the whereabouts of their men.

“I started helping such distressed people after I spent almost a month in Rashid Hospital, Dubai with my husband, Padmanabhan, who was undergoing treatment for kidney stone. I could see many poor and lonely expatriate patients who did not have any resources or relatives here. Initially I started giving them food but later I realised that I have a bigger role,” Uma said.

“In one case, the family of a murdered Indian worker was reluctant to receive the dead body because they were expecting some money along with the body. Sometimes, the airlines refuse to carry dead bodies on connection flights. I had to seek the help of higher authorities and the media to get things done.

"When I reached Jaipur airport with a dead body, the family was not ready to accept the corpse. They were expecting some money but since the deceased worker was an illegal resident, he did not get any compensation. Sometimes, the dead man may have incurred heavy debt and the family may not know about it,” she said, adding that, whatever be the difficulties she encounters in helping such distressed people, she feels happy.

One worker, who had not gone home for 13 years, was found in a park in Deira, Dubai. “For nine years, he did not contact his family. He came here on a visit visa and was living illegally doing odd jobs. He was earning only Dh300 per month and did not bother to contact his family,” Uma said.

It is due to alcoholism and stress that the workers end up in murder cases or suicides, she said.

"Their bodies had to be identified by DNA tests and blood samples of relatives had to be brought to Dubai. Even tracing their families was a herculean task because they were all illegal workers and their passports or other documents were burnt in the villa fire,” adds Uma.

Once, she was embarrassed to travel with a mentally imbalanced man.

“The worker from Gujarat was mentally sick. He was home sick and was found walking nude on the street. His mother, who worked as a housemaid in India, was ready to accept the mentally sick son. But in some cases, the families are not keen to take care of sick and bed ridden people. They only want compensation money if they die,” Uma added.

She reverts back to her busy work at the Al Awir centre, where a tent has been erected for the smooth operation of amnesty scheme.