Trapped as Dubai dream goes sour. Brits stuck in homelessness nightmare surviving on handouts.
Steven C is in his late 50s. Born in London but raised in the far North of Scotland, he made the move to Dubai in 2002 lured by high, tax- free wages and glamorous living. Until 2010 he was a successful copywriter in an upscale UAE advertising agency. Like a lot of expats in Dubai, Steven received constant phone calls from banks offering him loans. He allowed himself to be caught up in the “Dubai lifestyle” and accepted some credit cards from Emirates NBD Bank; too many as it turned out. Steven fell behind with payments, and then the unpleasant side of the loan business began to invade his life.
Steven cut back on his lifestyle; rarely eating out, sold his car and moved to a cheaper part of the city. It was not enough for him to meet his payments and in Dubai, unlike in most countries, debt is not a civil matter, it is a criminal offence that can mean substantial jail time.
UAE banks are notorious for their unwillingness to negotiate. Why should they when they can threaten debtors with years in a hellish desert jail? As Abdulfattah Sharaf (HSBC country head) openly says, “Jailing debtors in the UAE remains an effective way for banks to retrieve bad loans. People immediately get people to come and bail them out, and get the money to us”
So the nightmare began. Debt collectors began to call him on the phone. Despite Steven’s pleas to restructure his loan, they refused, becoming more angry and aggressive: "You filthy defaulter. this my country. Give me my money and go home to you country" Steven recalls being told by one collector, “the stress was horrendous. They cursed, insulted me and constantly threatened me with jail, explicitly frightening me with how I would be raped and beaten during my sentence, which would be for years, not months.”
Jane, Steven’s wife adds, “they were aggressive and insulting with me too. Shouting down the phone that if I really cared for my husband I would be ‘standing with the prostitutes down at Bur Dubai’ to help him.”