Moved by their plight, an Indian businessman in the UAE has helped nearly 3,700 prisoners from several nations who had served their sentences but remained in jails in the country for lack of money, by paying off their debts and buying them air tickets for home.
Firoz G Merchant, owner of a jewellery company, has already secured the release of about 3,700 prisoners since 2011, including 500 this year - spending an estimated Rs 6 crore and plans to pay off the debts of another 1,000 inmates later this year.
"I have seen the plight of these people who are in jail even after serving their term only because they don't have the money to go home. Jails here have excellent facilities. They are centrally air conditioned. Prisoners get good food, even education. But at the end of the day, it is still a jail and these people must be reunited with their families," Merchant said.
Merchant moved from Mumbai to the UAE in 1989 to set up a jewellery business. He has secured the release of 500 people this year alone. The repatriated prisoners are from various nations including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Morocco.
Merchant maintains he helps people in jail for bounced cheques for housing rent, car loans, credit cards or unpaid education loans, but does not bail out those on murder, rape or drug charges.
He was inspired to start the aid programme when scores of construction workers lost their jobs during the economic downturn.
"These are not criminals I am trying to help and everybody should obey the law. However, these people were caught in unfortunate circumstances and need help. I am just doing what I can," Merchant said.