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In Dubai, car’s bedroom for the hard-up
- Shining, but not for all

Dubai, March 5: If Dubai authorities catch Indian worker S. Darsha in his car at night, he would be in trouble.

Not for speeding or drunken driving, nor even for illegal parking. His offence is that he uses his car as his bedroom.

Unable to afford the soaring house rents in Dubai, thousands of expatriate workers ' most of them Indians ' have taken to sleeping in their cars for the past few months.

The municipal authorities and the police have launched a crackdown, patrolling the streets at night to catch the offenders and fine them.

Rents in Dubai have skyrocketed in recent years. An average two-bedroom flat in a 15-year-old building costs 35,000 dirhams a year compared with 20,000 dirhams in 2001.

Darsha, a Gujarati who works as office assistant to a chartered accountant, earns 4,500 dirhams a month. He had been content paying 650 dirhams as his share of rent for bedspace in a two-bedroom flat where he lived with three others.

Three months ago, when the landlord raised the annual rent from 31,000 dirhams to 50,000 dirhams, Darsha began looking for a new flat. He couldn’t find one where his portion ' with three others sharing the flat ' would come to less than 1,000 dirhams a month.

The lease of the old flat expired and Darsha had to take his belongings out and stuff them in his car. As he continued his search for cheap lodgings, he had to spend a few nights in his car ' and realised it was a better option.

“Since then I have been sleeping in my car,” Darsha said. “I report to my office early and do my daily routine there before the others come in. I have to spend on laundry and eat at restaurants, but this is still cheaper than paying 1,000 or 1,200 dirhams a month ' 25 per cent of my salary ' as rent.

“My boss doesn’t know, and I dread the moment he finds out I’m homeless.”

Asked how he manages to evade the authorities, Darsha said: “I never park my car at the same place two nights in a row.”

Darsha said he knew dozens like him who slept in their cars. One of them, Prakash, who is from Kerala, earns about 3,000 dirhams a month as a salesman. “The least I would have to pay for overnight sleeping space is 800 dirhams plus a share of the water and electricity charges,” he said. “How can I afford a third of my salary for accommodation'”

Many Indians who lived here with their families have sent their wives and children back because of the soaring rents and other costs. Fuel prices rose by 30 per cent a few months ago, leading to steep hikes in the prices of food as well as other goods and services.

In the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah, the authorities recently discovered that casual labourers were sleeping in privately-owned buses.

Recently, the police searched dozens of parked buses at night and found workers, mostly from Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, sleeping inside.

The buses were mostly under private contract to labour-supply companies; some were owned by the companies themselves. The firms were all fined.

The workers, though, were let off with a warning. Most of the workers were “freelancers” without work or residence permits who had overstayed their visit visas.

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