The proactive stance is being taken by both the Embassies in the UAE, to try and counter the high number of arrests and detentions of British nationals – both residents and visitors.
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) report “British Behaviour Abroad”, Britons are most likely to be arrested firstly in Thailand and secondly in the UAE. The Emirates is also third-highest in terms of drug-related arrests.
“As a British National, you are more likely to be arrested in the UAE – statistically and proportionally – than anywhere else in the world apart from Thailand. And there are reasons for that,” Guy Warrington, British Consul General to the UAE said at an inaugural British Embassy event designed to spread awareness, on Monday.
“It’s not because the British community here is badly behaved, the British community here is very well behaved. But FCO research does show that a majority of arrests overseas are avoidable,” he said.
A recent example includes a couple who were sentenced to a month in jail followed by deportation for kissing on the lips in public and consuming alcohol.
The consular team visits British schools to educate children about the rules, regulations and laws of the Emirates, working in conjunction with the UAE’s police forces.
Mandy Smith, Vice Consul of the Assistance Team at the Dubai Embassy, spoke to British nationals yesterday, citing the case of a 16-year-old British Muslim boy that she dealt with (not a case in Dubai).
“He was offered alcohol and he took the alcohol. He was arrested, and he was detained. This young chap… was sentenced to lashings. We had our London bureau and our officers here and we tried to think of every person we could [to offer assistance in the case],” she said.
“Was he taken out and given the lashings? Absolutely. He was taken out and he was given the lashings, because we’re not allowed to interfere in the legal process of a country: just as we would not allow anyone to intervene in the laws of the UK,” Smith said.
To date, Smith has spoken to approximately 4,000 British citizens about the laws of the UAE. She dedicates a whole day per school – speaking to children during the day and then continuing the work at the parents evening.
“If you do drugs, you’ll go to jail, is the message I give them,” she said, continuing that she confronts her young audiences about using “The Milkman”.
The Milkman is a person who sells alcohol illegally to underage drinkers. Other aspects of the educative talk include dress code, sexual behaviour and marriage, the purchase and consumption of alcohol and financial regulations including bounced cheques.
“We have British citizens here, that are serving up to 42 years in jail for bouncing a cheque,” Smith said.
It’s estimated that 100,000 Britons live in the UAE and approximately 20,000 of these reside in Abu Dhabi. A total of one million transit through the Emirates per year.
Dos and Don’ts for British Nationals
The British Embassies have recently released a new booklet “UAE Advice for British Nationals” in order to spread the FCO advice to the British community in a new format. It contains information about traditions, social ethics and laws of the UAE, the dress code, respect for religion and what the British Embassies can and can’t do for Britons.
Lisa Aire, 32, mother of three, attended the Embassy briefing yesterday: “I think it does no harm whatsoever to be reminded of the dos and don’ts once in a while, no matter how long you’ve been living in Dubai,” she told Gulf News.
However, she said she’s not surprised to hear of British residents or holidaymakers being arrested for alcohol or sex offences in the UAE, even though the laws “aren’t new and have always been in place”.
“What may seem as normal behaviour by people in Western countries can easily turn into a nightmare if the laws are abused in the UAE,” she said.