Until a week ago, 60-year-old Madhusoodhanan and his six-member family lived in a run-down villa in Sharjah, UAE. They lived in constant fear that they could be arrested at any time for living in the country without proper documents. Deportation, on the other hand, would mean tearing his family apart.
A Kollam native, Madhusoodhanan is married to a Sri Lankan national Rohini. The couple have five children aged between 21 and 29 years. The family has been living in the UAE without proper documents and visa for more than three decades.
Their only hope is the general amnesty that is to begin on August 1. While illegal residents have the option of being deported to their home countries or to legalise their status, Madhusoodhanan wants to opt for the latter. Deportation would mean splitting up the family, with Madhusoodhanan and his children being sent to India, while his wife would be forced to go to Sri Lanka.
Decades of struggle
Madhusoodhanan migrated to Sharjah in 1979 on a valid visa and married Sri Lankan native Rohini in 1988. However, years after migrating to Sharjah, Madhusoodhanan lost his job.
By the time the couple had their first child in 1989, Madhusoodhanan had lost his second job as well and was residing as an illegal resident. Things went awry when Rohini too lost her job a few years later. According to a report by Khaleej Times, Madhusoodhanan worked as a heavy vehicle operator from 1998 to 2017, earning Dh4,000 per month.
The couple had another four children between 1992 and 1998. Over the years, with the help of community members, the couple were able to get Indian passports for four of their children. However, these expired in 2012. The eldest child, however, remained passport-less. Currently, only Madhusoodhanan holds a valid passport.
Speaking to TNM over the phone, Madhusoodhanan said, "We couldn't apply for visa for any of our children, since at any given time, one of us (Madhusoodhanan and Rohini) were living here illegally. When one got a job and had resident permit, the other didn't. That situation continued. We somehow managed to take passports for four children but did not have money to apply for (UAE) visas."
With their children not having any resident permits or visas, the couple could not send them to school. All the five children have been home-schooled by Rohini and haven't received any formal education.
But help has finally started arriving for Madhusoodhanan. This after Asianet News reported on the plight of the family last week. Madhusoodhanan says that the Malayali community in Sharjah and several others, who came to know about their plight through the news, have now come forward to help them financially.
"Many people have offered financial help and are sending us food and other essentials. Some have also offered to give us jobs after our passport and visa issues are resolved," Madhusoodhanan said.
PTI quoted Sumathi Vasudev, Consul (consular and labour) and Acting Consul-General of the Indian Consulate General in Dubai as saying that they have offered all help in documentation process.
It’s been 29 years since Madhusoodhanan returned, with his last visit to Kollam being in 1989. When asked whether he never yearned to return home, he sighs, "It’s not that I don't want to visit my family back in Kerala. But how can I go back in this condition? After everything is sorted out, I want to go back to Kerala with my family. If I had wanted to return home, I wouldn't have struggled so much for all these years. I could have been deported to Kerala in the general amnesty in the previous years. But I wanted things to be resolved and continue to live here legally. That's why I have waited for so long. Moreover, my wife is not an Indian. So, if we are to be deported, our family will be split. We do not want that."
His siblings and relatives back in Kollam were also kept in the dark about Madhusoodhanan's problems.
"I never told anyone about my problems. My sisters and brothers still live in Kollam and they kept telling me to come back. Before our mother passed away, they even went to temples and prayed so that we can all go home. But there were legal and financial issues that did not make it possible. I didn't want to tell them about my problems. Even here, none of my friends knew that we lived in such a condition. I never invited any of my friends or colleagues home," he said.