Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months
For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home.
Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans.
Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.
Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen.
“Every day we find more and more cars,” said one senior airport security official, who did not want to be named. “Christmas was the worst – we found more than two dozen on a single day.”
When the market collapsed and the emirate’s once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit.
“There were a lot of people living the high life, investing in real estate and a lifestyle they couldn’t afford,” one senior banker said.
Under Sharia, which prevails in Dubai, the punishment for defaulting on a debt is severe. Bouncing a check, for example, is punishable with jail. Those who flee the emirate are known as skips.
The abandoned cars underscore a worrying trend. Five years ago the Emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Dubai into a hub for business and tourism. A building boom fuelled double-digit growth, with thousands of Westerners arriving every day, eager to cash in on the emirate’s promise of easy living and wealth.
Many Westerners invested in Dubai’s skyrocketing real estate market, buying and reselling homes before building was even complete. But, as the recession took effect, property and financial companies made thousands of workers redundant and banks tightened lending. Construction companies have delayed or cancelled projects and tourism is slowing.
There are increasing signs that the foreigners who once flocked to Dubai are leaving. “There is no way of tracking actual numbers, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Dubai is emptying out,” said a Western diplomat.
International schools are having to be flexible on fees as expatriate parents run out of cash. Louise, a single mother from Britain, said that her son’s school had allowed her to pay a partial fee until she found a new job after her redundancy in December. “According to the headmaster, a lot of people had come into the school saying they had lost their jobs so the school was trying to be a bit more flexible,” she said.
Most of the emirate’s banks are not affiliated with British financial institutions, so those who flee do not have to worry about creditors. Their abandoned cars are eventually sold off by the banks at weekly auctions. Those recently advertised include BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes.
Simon Goldsmith, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Dubai, said that that there were approximately 100,000 Britons living in Dubai last year. However, the embassy has no way of tracking how many have fled back to the UK. “We’ve heard stories, but when somebody makes that kind of decision, they generally keep it to themselves,” he said.
Police have issued warrants against owners of the deserted cars. Those who return risk arrest at the airport.
3.62 million expatriates in Dubai
8% population decline predicted this year, as expatriates leave
1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai
62% of homes occupied by expatriates 60% fall in property values predicted
50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah
25% reduction in luxury spending among UAE expatriates
more via arabbusiness.com