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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Emirati addict turns life around with help of Abu Dhabi human rights office

A centre in the capital’s judicial department supports UAE citizens and residents who feel they have nowhere to turn
Former drug addict Sultan Al Jarjawi has turned his life around and is to join the military. After years of taking crystal meth, he finally became clean with help from Abu Dhabi human rights department. Victor Besa / The National

A recovering Emirati drug addict who threatened to kill himself in front of a judge has turned his life around and will start a new job within days.

Sultan Al Jarjawi, 29, had not slept for five nights when he was summoned to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department on January 8 for failing to pay his rent for several months.

Addicted to methamphetamine and with no money in the bank, he appealed to the judge, telling the court he had nowhere to turn for help.

“At that point, if I had not found help, I would have taken a few more injections, knowing full well that it would be the end of me,” he told The National.

Mr Al Jarjawi had been responsible for supporting his grandmother, sister, 30, and aunt after his father remarried and left them when he was a boy.

“My uncle on my mother’s side helped for a few years, but he earns about Dh10,000 per month and has his own family to support,” he said.

Mr Al Jarjawi fell in with the wrong crowd and, at age 14, began using drugs. As he grew older, he struggled to hold on to a job and was in and out of prison on drug-related charges for more than a decade.

“I had no money, I was high on drugs and my grandmother and sister were going to get thrown on the streets because we hadn’t paid rent,” he said.

Seeing how desperate Mr Al Jarjawi was, the judge chose not to order his arrest and instead sent him to the judicial department’s human rights office.

The office, overseen by Fatema Al Bedwawi, is where Mr Al Jarjawi spent every weekday for three months coming up with a plan to turn his life around.

Fatema Al Bedwawi, director of the Human Rights Department at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. Pawan Singh / The National

“I’ll never forget the day I was born again and given a second lease of life,” he said of his first day there.

“She asked me how many injections I took and I told her seven and with each one, I prayed that I would die.”

Ms Al Bedwawi and her team heard him out. “She gave me hope ... step by step, she turned my life around.”

Ms Al Bedwawi arranged housing for his familywith the support of Emirates Red Crescent, which paid Dh71,000 in hotel charges.

The next step was to get Mr Al Jarjawi free of drugs so he could get a job and provide for his family. After a stint in rehab and screening over a two-month period, he was declared clean.

“We co-ordinated with the military and they agreed to hire Sultan,” Ms Al Bedwawi said. “We will cover [his family’s] rent with the support of Emirates Red Crescent until Sultan gets his first pay cheque.”

Mr Al Jarjawi is now taking life one day at a time and keeping clean.

“This is what we do. We are a helpline for people who feel like they have no option and that all the doors are closed,” Ms Al Bedwawi said.

The law doesn’t see nationality, race, colour or status

Fatema Al Bedwawi

Since its establishment by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, in 2011, the office has helped hundreds of residents.

Every day, at least two or three people are referred there. Each of them needs help resolving a problem with an employer, creditor or family member.

“Sometimes it feels like the word ‘grievances’ is tattooed on my forehead,” she said, jokingly.

But Ms Al Bedwawi feels it is her job to support those who cannot be helped elsewhere.

“We are different because we listen [ …] and we refer cases to the departments that can assist,” she said.

“We speak to officials on behalf of the resident in need and will plead their case, whether it is with immigration officials or people they owe money to – and if they don’t have a lawyer then we appoint one for them.”

Each problem can take months to resolve, Ms Al Bedwawi said.

The office recently helped a Filipina who had overstayed her visa.

“We thought that was an open-and-shut case but then discovered that she had accumulated Dh300,000 in fines and her case was registered at another emirate outside our jurisdiction,” she said. After a month of negotiation they managed to settle her debt.

“We assist people who have had a verdict issued in court. If the case is ongoing then we ask them to wait until the final verdict. In the meantime, if they have an urgent problem such as the risk of being evicted because they cannot pay for rent, then we help with that,” Ms Al Bedwawi said.

The office also helps people living abroad with outstanding cases in the UAE.

Ms Al Bedwawi said her phone is filled with messages from people in places such as Palestine and Syria – most have left the UAE but found themselves tied up in outstanding legal issues.

“For me and my team, we get immense pleasure from helping people who need help,” she said. “We have seen it all at this office. They all come here and pour their hearts out and we help resolve their problems.”

She said the biggest misconception most people have is that there was nowhere for residents to go for help, “particularly if it is a blue-collar worker going against an Emirati”.

“But the law doesn’t see nationality, race, colour or status,” she said.

Updated: June 25, 2019 12:48 PM