By Khaled Almaeena
23 March 2015
I have written articles on the raids on “violators” of Iqama (residence permit) regulations and labor laws, in which I asked who the real violators are.
These articles in English and Arabic brought many responses, especially those written in English. It is heartbreaking to see the tragedy of the poor people who have been duped by their sponsors.
I expected a statement or a call from the Ministry of Labor to clarify the situation, but no such thing has yet occurred.
Perhaps the minister is busy with the Nitaqat program and we certainly do appreciate his concern to see that this program succeeds.
However, statements from the Ministry of Labor and the Passport Department about catching and detaining for deportation hundreds of “illegals” fill the newspapers and flood the media on a daily basis. It is almost as if they were talking about the number of birds they have caught.
"Protect the people"
I say this again and very clearly: the entire operation is not being handled the right way. We hear people speaking about the need to punish those sponsors who violate labor laws.
Well, I will give the Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih the case of a limousine company whose Saudi owner has asked the drivers who work for him to renew their own iqamas.
The company’s cars are not insured, those workers who want to leave are not allowed to do so and all they get is shouting from the owner.
Many of those who work for this company want to be released and transfer their iqamas to another sponsor. The irony is that on a couple of occasions they have had to get money from their families to get released from jail after being involved in accidents.
There are many such cases and companies. In one case, the Saudi sponsor did not allow his employee to leave the country even though the man begged him as his mother had died.
And please don’t tell me that these are isolated cases. Let the Minister of Labor and Director of Passports hold an open day with expatriate workers and listen to what they have to say. They will hear horror stories.
This is sad and worrying for all good citizens of this country. Our enemies are already defaming and accusing us of many things. These wicked people in our own society are giving them more fuel to add to the fire.
"There is no excuse"
However, let me make it clear that we are all for security and we support the authorities in their drive to flush out the over stayers of Haj and Umrah visas.
There is no excuse for these people to be in the Kingdom after their visas have expired.
My main concern is those who are victims of heartless and unscrupulous Saudi sponsors. They should be helped and we should find ways to give them legal status and protect them.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has made it very clear that whatever the case, justice will prevail in this country.
Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, is a man who has defeated the terrorists. Both of them would like to see that justice and order prevail for everyone in this land.
The government has clearly stated that corruption will be stamped out. This does not only apply to officials but to the general public as well.
So let us not blame the victims and ignore the violators, and when expatriates are caught with expired iqamas or other documents, let the authorities ask why instead of taking them straight to the deportation center. Let us remember that expatriate workers are human beings, just like us. We want people to have a good image of our country.
P.S. In the meantime can the Minister of Labor do his job and rescue these drivers?
Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena