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Dramatic turnaround for man with 10 year overstay and Dh1 million debt.

Dubai Ten years ago, Pastor Sajith C. Shankar's life was on the brink. He had overstayed in the country for 10 years and had liabilities of about Dh1 million.

A photographer by profession, he had hit an all-time low in his career with business at his studio in Hor Al Anz coming to a standstill. He had borrowed heavily from money lenders and had defaulted on five to six credit cards. He was wanted by the police and even attempted suicide by repeatedly cutting his wrist.

Yet when the last amnesty was announced in 2007, he did not want to return to native Kerala, India.

Today, as the latest amnesty gets underway, he recounts his dramatic turnaround even as he provides legal advice to those who find themselves in a similar situation.

"Thanks to the Almighty I could stay on and rebuild my life. I was a complete wreck and had missed the amnesty too. But I managed to get a job with a valid visa and turn my life around," said the 52-year old who speaks fluent Arabic and wears a kandora.

But Shankar realises not many would be as lucky as him. As he goes about helping hapless families with paperwork ahead of the amnesty, he said most of them are victims of circumstance, not criminals.

"They are in the wrong for a variety of reasons. Often they get carried away and end up with financial crises. Some are even duped and cornered by employers and money-lenders who withhold passports and slap cases against them. Employers report employees as absconding to prevent their companies from being blacklisted. The employees don't actually go missing."

He said desperation at one time had forced him to pledge not only his passport but also those of his wife and daughter to money-lenders. "The interest on the loans I had taken only grew by the day and I had no way of repaying them as I was jobless and did not have a visa for 10 years. I cut my left wrist in five places to end my life. I thought I would die, but I woke up and found myself in a hospital. That was when I realised the mistake I had made by continuously borrowing money."

Luckily for him, he managed to get a job at a recruitment company which gave him a visa and a fresh lease of life. "I am ever grateful to God and the sponsor for the second chance. There has been no looking back since. I could not pay my daughter Parvathi's fees for six years -- now she studies in an international school along with my son Bejoy in Ooty where my wife Jeeja also lives. I have been able to repay 90 per cent of my loans too over the years," said Shankar.

According to him, many of those he is assisting do not wish to return to their homeland as they have nothing to fall back upon. But they have little choice.

"The authorities are very large-hearted and have announced yet another amnesty. Individual employers, sponsors and banks should also show the same large-heartedness and pardon employees and small defaulters by withdrawing cases against them," he said. "I say this because it would give those in genuine need a chance to stay and work in the UAE. There is no country better than the UAE in the world."

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Publication:XPRESS (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Dec 6, 2012
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