Veteran unable to leave UAE since 2018 amid legal battle begs for help coming home

20 August 2023, 07:32

Robert Dobbs has been living away from his family for years
Robert Dobbs has been living away from his family for years. Picture: Handout

By Kit Heren

A veteran has been stuck in the United Arab Emirates for five years because of a fine he says is undeserved and has no chance of paying.

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Robert Dobbs, who served in the US air force, has lived in Sharjah for ten years, and met his wife in the Emirate.

But the last five years have been a "nightmare", he said, having been through an arduous and costly legal process with his former employer.

In 2013, Mr Dobbs, 53, moved to Sharjah to teach because "the economy was a little bit slow in the United States".

He worked for a year, before moving onto a second school, where he worked for four years, eventually moving into a management position as head of his department.

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Robert Dobbs with his family
Robert Dobbs with his family. Picture: Handout

The head of the school told Mr Dobbs in 2018 that she was not renewing his contract - and would not be paying his end of service gratuity, a normal payment in the UAE for someone leaving their job.

After being told he had lost his job, Mr Dobbs lined up a new teaching post in Germany - but to leave the UAE, foreign workers need their employer to cancel their visa.

But after the row over money, the school head told Mr Dobbs that he would not cancel his visa, the veteran said.

It resulted in an 18 month-long legal battle that ended with the school being ordered by a court to pay him his money and issue the cancellation.

Robert Dobbs
Robert Dobbs. Picture: Handout

But they still did not pay, or cancel the visa - and instead counter-sued, accusing Mr Dobbs of not paying fees for his children at the school. Mr Dobbs said the fees were included as part of his employment at the school.

By this time Covid had hit, and legal hearings were being held online. Mr Dobbs said he wasn't even told about his case, and only found out when he was hit with an AED 360,000 fine (£77,000).

But he was unable to work legally, meaning he was unable even to begin paying off the debt.

He said attempts to speak to Sharjah officials about his situation were like "speaking to a brick wall".

He is in contact with his senator, Tammy Baldwin, who is pushing for the US state department to help with his case and get him back home.

Robert Dobbs
Robert Dobbs. Picture: Handout

His wife and five children have moved back to the US, and have been back for sporadic visits, but he is largely living on his own.

He himself is relying on money from his family to get by, but said his life was a shadow of how it used to be. He said he was often harassed by local police, and has even been beaten up on suspicion of being a spy.

"All I want is to get home now," he said. "It's like I'm stuck in a black hole in the system.

"Give me a visa, and let me become a worker, then there are things I can do to help mitigate this. I can get started on paying the ransom, as I look at it.

"Or just deport me, because keeping me here like this is ridiculous."

He is being supported by pressure group Detained in Dubai, which helps foreigners locked up in the UAE.

Radha Stirling, who runs the group, said: "This debt is a manufactured one, but the results are very real.

"We have seen people die in Dubai because they were not allowed to leave, nor were they allowed to work to support themselves because the open police/civil case prevents them from getting a work visa."

Mr Dobbs said he was tough and had adopted his veteran's mentality: "I’m back to my old military days

"I have a will to survive, a mental strength to survive."

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