Absconding workers waiting for repatriation are being sent to immigration detention centres, as the temporary prison normally used to hold them is continuously overcrowded.

With the temporary prison full, Gulf News learnt some workers are being sent to the Al Quoz Detention Centre for immigration-related offences.

"We take them to Al Quoz if there's no space here," an official said.

Officials at the prison negotiated yesterday among themselves as to how many new people they could accept.

Gulf News reported yesterday that the temporary prison near Al Wasl Road was so overcrowded, absconding workers awaiting repatriation could no longer be sent there.

Instead, officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs were asking for informal sponsors to ensure absconding workers return home.

Informal sponsorship involves asking absconding workers to provide a friend's ID card or passport.

These are returned when the unofficial sponsor brings back a cancellation notice from the airport.

Other absconding workers remain in police station lock-ups until room is found.

Between 9 to 15 such workers arrive daily at the ministry, officials said.

Officials at the temporary prison declined to say how many people it could hold, but all agreed it was above 1,000.

However, one official said the temporary prison was "sometimes" crowded but "not to the extent that it's totally closed to new applicants for a long time".

"It gets full, but then workers are repatriated and space is found. We fly out workers daily," he said.

He declined to say how often the temporary prison could not absorb new workers.

As he was speaking, other officials representing convicted petty criminals and immigration offenders were negotiating among themselves.

They were haggling over how many of their prisoners could come into the temporary prison.

"I've got 88 and 5 are workers," one said.

Another said: "Where will I go with more than one hundred?"

One official interjected "130! How many from each section?"

It was finally agreed 160 new entrants would be allowed in. Amidst luggage and people strewn beyond the tall fence, large green police buses pulled up alternately with smaller white minivans.

Handcuffed men, mostly prisoners in yellow and blue-banded uniforms, entered the temporary prison. The prisoners were watched carefully by the small crowd of men and women who had come to visit people inside.

A white-bearded policeman stooped as he carried dozens of handcuffs back into the bus. A guard stood partly in the shade.

"I see at least four of these big buses come in every day." One bus driver said he could carry "51 prisoners, about six guards, one driver and a little more".

Where were the people going, if the temporary prison was full?

One guard standing at the padlocked gate of the prison laughed.

"You think this is crowded? You haven't seen anything yet."