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Opinion

UAE debtors jail: Playing the go-to-jail card

The UK stopped jailing debtors in 1869 but a subsidiary of UK bank HSBC defends the survival of the practice in the UAE, according to local weekly Arabian Business.

HSBC’s UAE country head, Abdulfattah Sharaf, is quoted as saying: "[Debtors jail] has worked for us. People immediately get people to come and bail them out, and get the money in." Presumably many of the bailouts come from family abroad.

In other countries, borrowers are more likely to repay if they keep jobs on the outside. In the UAE, however, especially Dubai, expatriates make up the vast majority of the population. Visas expire on redundancy.

Sharaf apparently acknowledges the limits of the approach, asking: "If you can’t get anything back, how am I going to benefit from people being in prison?" For many, the threat of being jailed for debt is another reason to rush to the airport as soon as redundancies are announced, and to leave forever.

According to a poll by Emirates 24/7 (another local newspaper), 11% of residents say they are renegotiating debt with banks.

But another 11% say their debt is so bad they see no way out except imprisonment. It is the ultimate client-centric approach.

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