Khaled Almaeena
Khaled Almaeena

Over the past couple of weeks, several headlines regarding “illegals” have appeared in newspapers. It is a hot topic of discussion in every household. Major General Sulaiman Al-Yahya, Director General of Passports, said last week that a crackdown on labor and residency violators will begin today. A headline in a newspaper said that there were 10,000 orders of deportation in the first quarter of this year. An item in another paper said that people have been asked to help nab violators of the labor laws. All of these reports give the impression that these people are criminals and that we should get rid of them immediately. Certain sections of the media in order to gain favor have gone overboard in attacking these so-called violators. However, as Anais Nin the European author said: “The role of the writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say”. That’s why as a writer with conscience, I have to point out that the majority of these so-called “illegal expatriates” are victims of greedy and heartless people in our society. Unfortunately, many illegals are mainly blue collar workers who are brought into the country and then bounced from person to person. Many do not have their iqamas (residence permits) processed. Others have to pay large sums of money every month to their sponsor who could be living in a remote place somewhere in the Kingdom. In one instance, a sponsor who had 80 workers paying him a monthly fee of SR400 died suddenly. Many of his stranded workers were caught and deported. Some did not have a chance to go and collect their personal belongings. They were arrested and taken straight to the deportation center! A couple of months ago, a lady wanted to employ a driver. His kafeel (sponsor) asked for SR11,000. The driver informed her of the miserable conditions he and 27 others lived in. No wonder we are being accused of human trafficking and slavery. These heartless and dishonest members of Saudi society create a bad image and tarnish the reputation of the country of the two holy mosques. They undermine the efforts of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to ensure justice for all people in this country. For over 25 years, I dealt with such cases due to my work as editor-in-chief of the two English language papers, Arab News and Saudi Gazette, and during that time I came across many horror stories. In one case a person whose wife was battling cancer in the hospital was declared “huroub” (an expatriate worker who has run away from his sponsor). However, a few kind hearted Saudis collected SR30,000 to pay the kafeel to renew the expatriate’s iqama and not to declare him huroub. We are all for law and order. We are all for security and we should all care for the safety and welfare of our country. But as responsible citizens, we should also speak the truth and admit our shortcomings. The “kafala" or sponsorship system needs to be reviewed. Thousands were deported last year. Thousands more are coming in! Why not make a list of the expatriate workers whose sponsors do not want them or cannot pay their salaries? Make a security check, fingerprint according to the law and conduct a medical test and let these expatriates work for others under government supervision. Don’t leave them to sponsors who have no conscience. We all support the government in its efforts to ensure that all foreigners in this country are legal residents. I appeal to Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, a man known for his kindness to look into this matter and to advise the relevant departments to be sympathetic to those who are victims. I also appeal to my fellow media colleagues to write and expose those who are indulging in the visa trade, extortion and other rackets that give our country a bad name. — Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena