Illegal residents face immediate deportation when they are caught, under new Ministry of Interior rules. Illegal immigrants previously faced a two-month prison term before being deported, but that has been scrapped in a bid to clear the decks of a growing number of illegals and eliminate crowding in Taweelah Prison, where hundreds of people are taken daily.

Prison sources said the new rule has been enforced for about 20 days, and those caught on the spot when sneaking into the country are deported immediately. However, those who aid infiltrators still face a minimum of three years in jail plus a heavy fine.

Dhow or speedboat operators and owners who bring in illegal immigrants are jailed for at least three years and fined heavily. According to a ministry report, over 14,000 illegal immigrants were caught last year.

As many as 200 illegal immigrants are taken to Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports every day, said the source, and sometimes the number is as high as 300. "There are days when we drive five to six bus-loads of illegal immigrants to the airport."

Most illegals are Afghans, followed by Pakistanis, Iranians, Bangladeshis and Indians. Those brought to the jail are asked to arrange an air ticket so they can be deported quickly. Those with no valid travel documents are assisted in getting out-passes from their embassies.

"Hundreds of applications for out-passes are forwarded to embassies daily," a source said. All inmates are permitted to contact friends and relatives to arrange air tickets. Those with no relatives or friends are referred to the ministry.

"The ministry examines such cases and provides air tickets for their deportation," he said. This procedure takes not more than 15 days and those who get air tickets are deported within a week. A Ministry of Interior report for 1999 revealed a rapid growth in the number of people staying in the country illegally.