'Some of the returnees claimed they had been deported despite having work permits and necessary legal documents'
Over 600 male Bangladeshi workers have been deported by Saudi Arabian authorities in the last two weeks.
Sources said the main reason for the deportations is the introduction of a government policy to limit certain jobs to Saudi nationals, as well as work permit related issues. The returnees include both legal and illegal migrant workers.
According to airport sources the number of returnees could rise further, as more and more workers are being sent back every day.
Statistics from Brac say that 106 male workers were deported from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and 110 earlier, on Sunday. A further 150 workers returned on October 5, and 144 on October 3.
The returns began towards the end of September, Brac officials said.
“Hundreds of male Bangladeshi workers are coming back from Saudi, as well as female workers. In the last two weeks, we observed that more than 600 Bangladeshi nationals have returned,” said ABM Farhad Al Karim, manager of Brac’s migration program.
“Most of the returnees had Akama (work permit) related issues. Either they had no work permit or it had expired. However, some of the returnees claimed they had been deported despite having work permits and necessary legal documents,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Saudi police arrested them from their workplaces or the streets, and put them in jail without any reason,” he added.
A policy of ‘Saudization’
In January this year, Saudi Labour and Social Development Minister Ali Al-Ghafees issued a directive barring expatriates from working in 12 job categories. The directive was implemented from the new Hijri year under the Islamic calendar, which began on September 11.
According to the daily newspaper Saudi Gazette, expatriate workers are now barred from working in watch shops, optical stores, medical equipment stores, electrical and electronic shops, outlets selling spare parts for cars, building material shops, outlets selling all types of carpets, automobile and motorcycle shops, shops selling home furniture and ready-made office materials, sales outlets for ready-made garments, children’s wear and men’s supplies, household utensil shops, and pastry shops.
Labor and immigration analyst Hassan Ahmed Chowdhury Kiron said Saudi authorities had launched operations against illegal foreign workers, as the deadline to legalize their documents had passed.
“Those workers who have failed to authorize their documents are being arrested and deported now,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
He added that the “Saudization” process at a number of companies, as they look to fill certain positions with Saudi nationals, may be leading to expatriate workers with legal documents facing deportation.
Md Yousuf Nabi, one of the workers deported on October 3, said he had gone to Saudi Arabia about 15 months ago having spent Tk6.5 lakh, but has so far managed to earn only Tk2.5 lakh by working as a security guard in the country.
“I was roaming the streets after finishing my work one day, when members of the Saudi Criminal Investigation Department (CID) suddenly detained me and put me in jail,” he added.” The CID kept me in jail for a week, even though I had all necessary documents including a work permit issued by the Saudi government.”
Employers embezzling money for work permits?
Another returnee, Rafikul Islam from Faridpur, used to work in construction in the Saudi city of Dammam. He was among those who were deported on Wednesday.
He said: “I went to Saudi Arabia two years ago, spending Tk6 lakh. Since my work permit had expired, I paid my employer Saudi Riyal 14,000 (Tk314,997) to renew it. Instead of doing so, he embezzled the money and filed a case against me.”
Tanvir Ahmed, assistant director of the Welfare Desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, said: “Workers who did not have legal papers for working in Saudi Arabia are coming back. Hundreds have arrived in the last few days.”
When asked about those who were deported despite having work permits, he said: “We do not know the reason behind their deportations. Embassy officials will have a better idea in this regard.”
Bangladeshi expat worker Mohammed Jafor Ahmmed said in many of the cases, workers could not get the jobs for which they were given visas.
“If they do a job other than the one they were given a visa for, police arrest them,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Jafor, who went to Saudi Arabia from Noakhali in February last year, said: “I was told by the recruiting agency that they would employ me at a petrol pump, but I am working in a garage here. I did not have a work permit till July, and I was arrested by police nine times before I got it.”
“Finally I had to bring money from home to get the work permit,” he added, claiming foreign employers often embezzle the money they are given for issuing work permits.
The need for migration diplomacy
According to the Bangladesh Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, more than 2.5 million Bangladeshi nationals, both men and women, are currently employed in Saudi Arabia. Although most of the workers have necessary legal documents, a significant number of illegal workers are also residing there.
Analyst Hassan, also the managing director of Merit Trade International, said: “Saudi Arabia is one of our biggest traditional labour markets. The government must give special attention to this sector to keep the market stable.”
“It is high time to introduce migration diplomacy with Saudi Arabia. To do so, the Bangladesh Embassy, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, and the Foreign Ministry should work under one umbrella and start negotiating with Saudi authorities to legalize documents of Bangladeshi workers,” he added.
Despite several attempts, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Additional Secretary Md Aminul Islam could not be reached for comment.