For years, I, Reza Bahar, have been forgotten in Dubai and unable to return to the United States. I first came to this city when there was barely any Jewish presence. I cherished building a Persian Jewish home in Dubai, yet I am now forgotten due to my past mistakes. I started a commercial brokerage business and lived lawfully in the UAE for at least 13 years. Following the global financial crisis that began in late 2008, my company ran into serious trouble.
At the time, banks put intense pressure on people to settle individual loans and tightened previously lax lending requirements. The courts sentenced me to pay 800,565 Emirati dirhams (around $218,000) in total, which I have been unable to pay. The authorities in the UAE have barred me from leaving the country or working for nearly seven years under the country’s outdated debt laws. The authorities have refused to renew my work and residency permits, making it impossible to repay my debts or meet basic needs.
The UAE’s justice system comes down hard on those who are unable to pay their debts or fail to repay loans. Bouncing a check is considered a criminal offense, leading to prison time of three years and a travel ban until the sentence is fulfilled. Because of my inability to pay my debts, I am stuck here without health insurance or a way out. I hope to raise awareness that I am not okay, and if left untreated, I could die.
My life is stuck in a never-ending legal limbo that leaves me no means to rectify or improve my situation, but I still wish for a miracle. Soon, we as Jews will begin lighting candles for Hanukkah – and my wish, just like every other Hanukkah, is to celebrate the next Jewish holiday in the United States with my family. In the meantime, I continue to suffer from several medical issues, some of which require surgery, which I cannot pay without health insurance. For all I know, this could be the last time I see Hanukkah candles as my cataract continues to worsen.
The authorities have decided not to jail me because of my deteriorating health, but an indefinite travel ban remains in place. The UAE will not acknowledge my existence until I die. I am forgotten. I ask the great people of the UAE to send me home – whether it be the US or Israel – I know I must leave before I am forever forgotten.