Friday, November 22, 2013

About what is happening in Saudi Arabia since November 1

I write this with a heavy heart. I feel so sorry for the so-called "illegal" expatriates who are now at the receiving end of the full force of the Saudi police and armed forces. To explain this, I would have to go back a few months in time ... nay, try and trace the root of the problem.

To be fair to the Saudis, they have had a steady infiltration of foreigners since the past several decades. Their modus operandi is simple: if possible, "disappear" from the scene when you arrive in the Kingdom for performing the Umrah or the Hajj. However, these disappearing Hajjis form just a small fraction of the problem. The bigger problem is caused when conniving and cunning Saudis sponsor people from the poor countries to come to Saudi Arabia on a free visa, then allow these people to work anywhere they want in exchange of an annual fee (which becomes their business - they don't need to work at all), and then, when a year has passed, declare these people as having "absconded" from their control and make their further stay in the Kingdom illegitimate.This happens because at the end of the year, the residence permits (Iqamas) of these expatriate workers expire. 

The poor workers continue to work wherever they want. If they want to renew their Iqama, they have to go back to their sponsor, who will then "oblige" in return for a hefty fee. Now comes the interesting part: this year, the Ministry of Interior started a "legitimisation" program where they have the right to expel all illegal expatriates, and also they can enforce a new rule whereby the employee can only work in a place that belongs to their original sponsor and not elsewhere. 

The last date of amnesty for this program was on the 3rd of November, and lakhs of illegal expatriates, whose only crime was to trust their Saudi sponsors in the past, had to leave the country. Millions of expats are still here ... and their status is illegal. Effectively, bread-earners have now become criminals in this country. Most have gone into hiding as the MOI has unleashed a huge force of policemen who are empowered to detain, arrest and set into motion all the steps needed to expel whoever they find with an improper residential status or work permit. As a result, many restaurants, convenience shops (bakalas), repair shops, etc. have closed down all over the Kingdom. In Al Muwayh, I personally know that both the Kerala restaurants have shut down, many car-repair shops have closed as well, and many small eateries (known here as "buffiyas") - where talented cooks worked their as@ off, preparing simple snacks for their customers. 

As I write this on the eve of my departure to India for my annual vacations, my heart goes out to these poor men and women who are in a state of despair - and most are, in fact, looking for a way out of the Kingdom.

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