(Front row, from left) Lucilla Buella, Victor Robert D’Souza and Rajan Dasan at St Mary’s Church in Dubai to offer thanks after amnesty gave them a chance to stay legally in the UAE. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Banks, hospitals and institutions had earlier closed their doors on the possibility of letting these illegally staying debtors and foreigners go.

But help came unexpectedly and opened doors, several in fact, Fr. Lennie Connully, parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, shared with Gulf News more than two weeks after the five-month amnesty in the UAE ended.

More than 100,000 illegal foreigners in Dubai were granted amnesty so they could legalise their stay or go back to their home countries without fines or a ban between August 1 and December 31.

But for those illegally staying with complicated situations due to police or other cases, the chances of availing the amnesty before the deadline were slim.

“For the normal amnesty facilities, a good number of them [parishioners] got that. But amnesty was not possible if they had legal issues, court cases, payments that were due whether they be hospital bills or bank dues, bounced cheques,” Fr Connully said.

It is these ‘complicated or special cases’ that St Mary’s Church through the Samaritan Ministry focused on so they too could avail of the amnesty. There were cases of people who got stuck not necessarily because of their fault but due to circumstances beyond their control.

As a church, we were able to negotiate with banks, hospitals, companies, and people to whom all these poor people owed something.

- Father Lennie Connully, St. Mary’s Catholic Church

But with the declaration of amnesty, it was as if the ground was cleared for them, Fr Connully said. The ‘spirit of the amnesty’ permeated through the different sectors of society and they caught on, listened and responded.

“They were all open to discussion; before they were not. ‘You owe us, you pay us.’ But because the top has cleared the way, they knew they also had to respond.”

“Our paralegal team and paralegals were able to go once more. As a church, we were able to negotiate with banks, hospitals, companies, and people to whom all these poor people owed something and had legal issues and so on. Many of them brought down their demands, some even waived their demands.”

Susan Jose, one of the volunteer social workers at the St Mary’s Church, saw this first-hand.

“The local banks have been very cooperative, especially during the amnesty. These banks have helped our parishioners with their debts shaving off the interest portions and bringing the loans to a minimum amount,” Jose told Gulf News.

“There was a case where the loan was Dh180,000 and it got down to Dh10,000. And another case of a lady who had a deportation and imprisonment order but both were waived in light of the amnesty. Praise God!” she added.

For this, the whole parish is grateful to everyone who made it possible, especially to the leaders, Fr Connully said.

“St. Mary’s Catholic Church Dubai would like to thank the UAE government and the rulers of this country. The amnesty just shows the magnanimity of the rulers here. They captured the heart of the people. They saw what reality is. And we are very very happy about that.”

‘It was like the hand of God was upon me’

Robert D’Souza, 51, Indian businessman

D’Souza has been in the UAE for 33 years. His company went bankrupt in 2010. The father of triplets, now aged nine, had police cases due to bounced cheques from 2010 to 2018. “I was offering car lift services and taking odd jobs to support my family. I’d met so many accidents during that time but nothing ever happened to me. I’ve experienced so many miracles that made me realise God’s hand was upon me. The whole experience was very challenging. There were times when I didn’t have rice or food or gas to cook for my kids. But by God’s grace, He took me through the journey,” he said in tears.

The church helped me sort out my police and rent case. Hats off to Dubai Police for treating me well

- Robert D’Souza, Indian businessman

“On the last few days of the amnesty in October, I was in Ras Al Khaimah sorting out my cases. I prayed to God to intervene as I would not be able to meet the deadline. I prayed, ‘Lord, it’s not only me. There are many others in my situation.’ The following day, I came to know in the newspaper that the amnesty had been extended.

“The church helped me sort out my police and rent case. Hats off to Dubai Police for treating me well. They let me speak to a judge via an online video channel and he just asked me to pay for my fines (police) and they kept me for two to three hours and then they said ‘you’re done’.

I managed to get a visa for myself and my kids on December 31, the last day of the amnesty. I couldn’t contain my joy, I walked around the church showing my visa to everyone. For all these, I thank the UAE government and St Mary’s Church.”

“We are now one family”

Lucilla Buella, 39, Filipina stylist

Buella and her husband had been married for 10 years but are childless. One accidental meeting five years ago with another stylist who had given birth at home left her wanting to help.

Finally through the amnesty, with St Mary’s Church’s help, we took our chance again and the police were very helpful and took the DNA test of the mother and my daughter

- Lucilla Buella, Filipina stylist

“My friend asked me if I wanted to see a baby and if I would want to help. My heart broke when I saw the baby who was just a day old because she had nothing. She was wrapped in an adult’s T-shirt. She was crying inconsolably because she had not been nursed; her mother didn’t have milk so we immediately went to the pharmacy to buy her milk.

“Three months later, the biological mother left the baby with me. I was terrified at first because the baby didn’t have documents. We took care of her and treated her as our own daughter. When she turned three, with the help of the church, I convinced her biological mother to finalise the adoption papers. But they had to leave the country first before they could proceed. That took two years.

“Finally through the amnesty, with St Mary’s Church’s help, we took our chance again and the police were very helpful and took the DNA test of the mother and my daughter. They were able to get their outpass quickly after determining their relationship. They flew to the Philippines and the church helped me in the adoption process.

“A big thank you to the UAE government for the amnesty because through it, my daughter Chloe and her biological mum are now free. That has been my heart’s desire, for both of them. Once her school documents are in order, we’ll sponsor her here so we can be together as a family.”

Rajan Dasan, 49, Indian welder

Dasan has been in the UAE for 11 years working as a welder. A labour dispute left him penniless and without a visa.

“My company stopped paying my salary in 2016. Aside from that, they also did not renew my visa when it expired. One time, the company tried to evict me from our accommodation. I had nowhere to go so I called police. The officer understood my situation and ordered to let me stay in the accommodation until the company settled what they owed me.

Now the judgement is finally out. The court ordered my company to pay me Dh18,320 within 10 days.

- Rajan Dasan, Indian welder

“It was tough not having anything to live on. I survived only through the help of friends. Because of pressure and anxiety, my hypertension worsened. It affected my eyesight and now I cannot see very well. I went to St. Mary’s Church in July and August and, by God’s grace, the amnesty began. They helped me file a case against my company and helped me with my food and living expenses.

“Now the judgement is finally out. The court ordered my company to pay me Dh18,320 within 10 days. The officials who were very helpful assured me that I could fly back to India without any overstay fines or a ban. Thank you to the UAE government for helping me, to the officials who were very proactive, and to the St. Mary’s Church. I can go home now to be with my wife who is recovering from surgery. I am at happy knowing I can still come back to the UAE later on to look for a new job to support my wife and two children.”