By Saeed Haider
Hundreds of Indians have swarmed special Indian Embassy counter opened at International Indian School Dammam (Boys Section) to facilitate issuance of Emergency Certificate (temporary passport) to those whose stay in the Kingdom has become illegal.
The Saudi government has announced an amnesty period of three months in which all illegal expatriates must leave the Kingdom, without any penalty or jail term. The Saudi government has warned of severe punishment for illegals after the amnesty period.
Ironically the Labor office has stopped giving appointment to the illegals — the perquisite of departure to have interview at the Labor office prior to stamping of exit. According to voluntary organizations working alongside the embassy at the school premises, the labor office has stopped giving appointments.
These voluntary organizations create a temporary account for the applicant on the basis of EC and then seek appointment. According to Shahjahan, a social activist from South Indian State of Kerala the labor office is not giving any new appointment. “It is frustrating because now any new appointment will be given after April 30. That means one month of the three-month amnesty period will automatically lapse,” he said.
Saudi Gazette could not get any comment from the Labor department as no one responded to the calls. However, an official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Saudi Gazette that the requests for appointments are unprecedented. “You are viewing with only Indian perspective while we have to tackle nationals from more than a dozen countries. He said that the appointments would soon restart.”
Many voluntary organizations are anticipating that the government may extend the amnesty period considering the huge number of illegals.
According to Kailash Dariya, an Indian Embassy official, who has devised a very coordinated plan to attend to the Indian expatriates, in the last five days they have issued more than 1,000 ECs. “It is an unending queue but we are determine to clear each and every request of EC,” he said.
It is very evident that the current team in Dammam is understaffed and they need more people from Riyadh. The role of the embassies is essentially restricted to issuance of travel document in case its nationals do not possess valid passport.
The Indian Embassy has shown an extremely flexible approach and has simplified rules to facilitate issue of travel papers.
The most appalling sight at the school premises was presence of huge number of women and children among the EC seekers. None of the families were ready to speak for the fear of punitive action by the authorities.
It was painful to see that several Indian expatriates, who are today standing in the queue as illegals, are essentially victims of either their sponsors or their once flourishing companies, which have now gone bankrupt.
The enormity of the situation can be assessed from the fact that just last year one of the previously listed construction company in Dammam, which was eventually facing liquidation and whose major shareholders were recently sentenced to jail terms for fraudulent activities, needed over SR40 million to renew Iqamas of its employees.
The company obviously lacking funds failed to renew Iqamas of its several hundred employees who eventually became illegal. On top of that the company did not give the passports to its staff, who also did not receive salaries for several months.
Similarly in Jubail a contracting company brought 27 employees from India and Bangladesh and without Iqama and work permit put them to work on site. When these employees protested for their salaries and filed a case against their company, the court immediately gave the verdict in favor of the employees. But unfortunately the verdict was never executed.
These employees suffered all these time and now today are standing in long queues as illegals. The fact of the matter is that they are not illegal but victim of some very illegal practices. The tragedy is that the workers will go eventually in a very undignified way whereas real culprits — their sponsors are untouched and unscathed.
Meanwhile Dariya, the embassy official at the IISD counter clarified that the team will continue to attend Indian nationals seeking ECs five days a week — from Sunday until Thursday. “We will ensure that each and every application is cleared before we wind up our operation here,” he said.