Demonstrations block traffic on adjoining roads to Karwan Bazar several times
Md Murshid does electrical and maintenance work at Saudi Arabia. He returned to Bangladesh on January 25 for vacation but later got stuck due the Covid-19 pandemic.
He was scheduled to return on March 28 as his return ticket was confirmed in a Jeddah based airline, Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia.
Murshid hails from Brahmanbaria. Talking to Dhaka Tribune yesterday, he said: "If I cannot confirm my return ticket today, I will not be able to reach my workplace. My visa and iqama will expire on September 30."
On September 23, the Saudi government, however, announced that it will extend the Iqama (work permit) and visa-duration by 24 days for Bangladeshis for those, whose documents will expire by September 30. If required, further assistance will be provided by the government.
Tajul Islam is a gardener at Riyadh, who hails from Mohonganj, Noakhali. His iqama will run out on October 12. He went abroad in 2017 with Tk5 lakh.
"My loan is almost paid off, but I need to support my family by continuing my income there. I do not know when I will depart for Saudi Arabia as I’m yet to get any confirmation of a token for a flight ticket," said Tajul, who came to Bangladesh on February 3 and visa was scheduled to leave the country on March 18.
An official of Saudi Airlines, wishing to be unnamed told this newspaper: "We can provide tickets as per our capacity. We provided around 2,300 tokens last week and are issuing the tickets now."
"Only one or two flights are operating for Saudi Arabia from Dhaka now," the official added.
Saudia Airlines has announced that it will operate three flights by September 30. This includes one today and two flights tomorrow.
On Monday, Saudia was issuing tickets to those who have returned to the country, with serial numbers 1,900 to 2,300. And from October 4, new tokens will be given to the expatriates who want to return to work, said some agency spokespersons.
"They will start work as soon as they get instructions from the Saudi embassy. They have appealed to the government to negotiate with the Saudi authorities to extend their visas," the added.
The expatriates are still worried about returning to Saudi Arabia as the agencies named by the Saudi embassy in Dhaka have not started work for applying for visa extensions.
This is why many migrant workers are anxious whether they will be able to get tickets from October 4 as their visas will expire on September 30, claimed the expatriates waiting outside hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon near capital's Karwan Bazar area.
According to the Saudi embassy, visa renewal applications can be made under the 18 approved agencies.
Md Nur Nabi hails from Companyganj upazila of Noakhali district. He was waiting in a queue with his token for a ticket, in front of Saudia Airlines office.
"I was scheduled to be interviewed by the Saudia agency on September 30. As tensions grow, I came today, and the agency allowed me here. We have to take Covid-19 negative report before 24-hours of flight departure time from the designated government hospital in Mohakhali area.”
However, the Saudi government and Bangladesh came to an agreement of taking Covid-19 certificates at least 48 hours before the flight.
Demonstrations halted traffic on adjoining roads to Karwan Bazar several times over the day.
Saudi returnees block Karwan Bazar
Hundreds of stranded Saudi returnees blocked the city’s Karwan Bazar area several times yesterday, halting traffic on several adjoining roads to the intersection over flight tickets to Saudi Arabia.
Grappled with uncertainty over returning to their workplaces, stranded migrants started demonstrating around 5pm for flight tickets.
The blockade was lifted an hour later. Earlier in the day, expatriates blocked the street in front of the Saudia office on Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel premises twice, which was lifted after the police intervened.
According to the demonstrators, their visa and work permit will expire soon, mostly on September 30.
Police, however, claimed that outsiders instigated the stranded migrant workers to demonstrate.
"Some outsiders are trying to provoke the migrant workers. We are trying to identify them," OC Md Abdur Rashid of the Hatirjheel police station told Dhaka Tribune.
He said that the police were not going tough on the migrants as it was a “sensitive issue”.
“Most of them gathered outside as they had no idea about the procedure to book a flight ticket,” added the police officer.
"Only intervention by the concerned ministry of government, foreign affairs, can solve this crisis," he added.
"The incoming and outgoing movement of the hotel Sonargaon were normal as the back side gate of north-eastern side," OC Hatirjheel told Dhaka Tribune.
The ticket booking office of the airlines is situated on the ground floor of south-eastern side at Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel.
Sources said a Turkish Airlines will start operation soon from Dhaka to Saudi Arabia.
Our correspondents Mamun Abdullah and Mehedi Al Amin contributed to this story