Meet the Irish woman helping ex-pats who find themselves in legal difficulty in the UAE
An Irish woman is among a team of advocates helping ex-pats jailed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Emma Lynch, who is based in Ireland, works alongside Radha Stirling. the CEO of Detained in Dubai, a group which helps people who find themselves in legal trouble in the UAE.
Ms Lynch met Ms Stirling seven years ago on holiday in Spain. She said they began talking about work and realised they had a lot in common.
At the time Emma was a case manager for an organisation called Empowerment Plus that works in the field of child protection.
However, after she completed her post there, Radha got in touch to bring her on board as a Client Negotiations Manager at Detained in Dubai.
“I am just delighted to be involved with such a positive organisation, seeking justice for people wrongfully detained abroad," Emma said.
With clients all over the world, their roles involve a lot of travel as people who have left the UAE are pursued for payments.
"Many small debts or credit card balances become much larger after fees and charges are added on. A €5,000 debt can become a €500,000 debt and many judgements occur in absentia after a person has returned to their own country," Emma tells Independent.ie.
Recently the group helped free Scottish man Jamie Harron who was arrested in July over an incident in which he claimed he put his hand on a man's hip to avoid spilling a drink in a crowded bar.
He was sentenced to three months in jail last month.
His case was later dismissed and he was freed – with the help of Detained in Dubai.
Ms Stirling started the organisation after leading a successful media campaign to have a colleague freed in Dubai.
The group, first founded over a decade ago, has also helped dozens of Irish people.
Most recently, an Irish man ended up on the Interpol Red List for fraud due to an outstanding credit card debt of €20,000.
"Three months ago we helped an Irish man who managed to leave the UAE before his bank was notified of the termination of his employment,” Ms Stirling said.
“He went back to Ireland and the bank actually put him on the Interpol database for fraud. It was around €20,000 but it meant that he could be arrested and detained in any country he travelled to. We had to apply to Interpol to get the Red Notice removed. He was very relieved.
"The system in the UAE regarding debt leads to big difficulties for many ex-pats.
"Bounced cheques are a really common problem," she said.
"If you sign a cheque and it bounces you are going to be jailed automatically. There is no right of appeal, there is no investigation into the reasons the cheque might have bounced.
“In the UAE it is extremely common to issue a cheque as security for a tenancy agreement or when you take out a loan or a credit card with a bank.
"Let's say you take out a credit card for €20,000. At the same time you issue them a cheque for the same amount and that in effect is a prison sentence because if at any time you can't make that monthly payment on your credit card they will present the cheque, which will of course bounce and you'll be jailed."
Currently, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs' travel advice for the UAE warns about the consequences of having unpaid debts.
It states on its website under the section 'Local laws and customs': "Financial crimes, including fraud, bouncing cheques and the non-payment of bills, is regarded very seriously in the UAE and can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for crimes involving fraud do not generally get bail. Convicted debtors will not usually be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived.
"Several Irish citizens have received custodial sentences as a result of non-payment of outstanding debts."
Rules around alcohol consumption can also pose issues for people in the UAE, according to Stirling.
Despite many tourists drinking in hotel bars tourists who go to the UAE are officially not allowed to drink alcohol at all. To drink you need to get a licence and tourists are not eligible for that licence.
"Dubai markets itself as the Las Vegas of the Middle East but the laws don't back it up," she said.
"If you go to the UAE and you drink in a hotel and someone points a finger at you and says he drank too much the police will come and arrest, charge and convict you of consumption of alcohol without a licence.
"Officially you are not allowed to hold hands in public, or kiss someone hello in public, but you will see it all the time so you will think it is okay, but if someone does decide to point a finger at you then you can get into trouble."
When asked what advice she would give to an Irish person heading off to work in the UAE, Stirling said: "To be aware that they are at risk of false accusations and any cheques that they write, even a security cheque, can be used against them and they can be jailed for that."
More information on the group cane be found at detainedindubai.org