Business

Destitute in Dubai: One man's story

  • 18 July 2010
  • From the section Business

It was six o'clock in the morning when I met Nicholas Warner down by the Dubai Creek and already the temperature was 35C. We both knew that in a few hours it would climb to nearer 50C.

He eagerly showed me to a bench shaded by a palm tree that faced the waterfront so we could talk without getting burnt.

"Is this where you're sleeping at the moment?" I asked.

Image caption Nicholas has spent many nights sleeping in this park, located along the Dubai Creek

"Oh no," he replied. "It's not like England. You can't lie down on a bench and just sleep. You have to prop yourself upright and nod off or you'll attract unwanted attention or get moved on. I sleep on the ground behind that hedge, when I'm here."

And when he's not there?

"I started off in my car - but it's too hot for that now - you'd bake. Obviously, I can't afford petrol to keep the air con running.

"Then I was under a bridge. There's been a few days in a car park at a hotel. The manager there kindly took my clothes off me sometimes and washed them. He also let me use the shower after a guest checked out of a room."

But that all stopped when the hotel manager lost his job.

"So now I'll be back to washing in the public toilets."

'Debt skipper'

Nicholas Warner is British and sleeping on the street in Dubai. He got into a dispute with his bank, Emirates NBD, initially over whether his credit card repayments had been made.

Image caption Emirates NBD filed the case against Nicholas

He went on holiday at Christmas and the bank says that by leaving the country without its permission while they were in a dispute, he got reclassified as a so-called "debt skipper" - one of the many expats who left Dubai in a hurry with large debts, never to return.

Of course, Nicholas did return. When he arrived back at Dubai airport, he was arrested. His passport was seized by police on the authority of the bank.

Although he was released and tried to negotiate with the bank he got into further difficulties.

Brushes with the authorities are frowned upon in Dubai.

He had been working as a strategy adviser for an alternative medicine company, but his employer decided it was safer to let him go while he sorted everything out.

Now he had no job, no way to pay the debt the bank was demanding and no passport - leaving him with no way home.

'Without my wife'

The complex ins and outs of what happened next would fill a book. Emirates NBD - the largest bank in the Middle East by assets - says it tried to negotiate a settlement with him that he reneged on.

Nicholas says what was orally agreed was not what the bank wrote down on paper.

Either way, Emirates NBD is refusing to let his passport be released until the debts are paid. Nicholas has no way of paying them without a job. And he cannot get a job without being able to show he's in the country legally. For that, he needs his passport.

"I've said to them, I've not got that sort of money that I just do that," he says, clicking his fingers.

"Because if I did, I would. There is no way I would not want to be with my wife for four months and be living rough, hoping that someone gives me their sofa and that the bank or the embassy come up with something.

"If I had that money, I would pay it."

Emirates NBD was unwilling to discuss the specifics of the case with the BBC.

In a statement it said: "All actions by the bank in this matter have been in accordance with prevailing UAE laws, and in line with the contractual agreement signed by the customer who was unable to meet his commitments and approach the bank for appropriate settlement of his dues."

Rising temperatures

Four months ago, Nicholas sold all the furniture in his house and took the money to the bank. It was just enough to cover the £6,000 the bank said he owed at that time.

Image caption Early risers fill the creek promenade from 6am, seeking fresh air during the cruel summer heat

The offer was rejected. Nicholas says he was told that with interest and charges, he now needed to pay nearer £11,500.

With no furniture in their rented house, Nicholas told his wife it would be safest for her to leave the country while she still could. She returned to her native Spain.

For a while, Nicholas was able to rely on friends letting him stay in their spare rooms or on their sofas.

But as time dragged on, they became worried that they might get embroiled in his predicament.

Which is how he ended up sleeping rough. As summer moves on, temperatures are set to rise still higher in the Emirate.

Nicholas hopes desperately that he won't still be on the streets in August. With no job, he has no medical insurance. If he gets ill, he's on his own.