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Crisis deepens over Saudi returnees

Published : 05 Oct 2020 09:51 PM | Updated : 06 Oct 2020 12:43 AM

The crisis over Bangladeshi expatriates’ return to Saudi Arabia continues to worsen as the Saudi returnees have been demonstrating for over three weeks demanding a reasonable solution.

On Monday, several hundred Saudi returnees also demonstrated in front of Saudi Arabian Airlines’ office in Karwan Bazar demanding tokens to get air tickets a day after police baton-charged on them that left several injured including women.

Protests were also reported over the last couple of days from different parts of Dhaka including the nearby areas of Secretariat, foreign and expatriate welfare ministries, and Saudi Embassy.

It is learned that despite the Foreign Ministry's offer to extend the Iqama (work permit) and worker’s leave until October 17, Saudi Arabia is yet make any official announcement.

Expatriates’ workers need to contact with their Saudi employers on visas and Iqama extension. As a result, fate of the workers now depends on the sympathy of their employers.

Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen told the Bangladesh Post that, "Saudi authorities will not extend the validity of the visa and Iqama unless an employer wants it.”

“Because back there the expats work under the sponsors. If the employer disallows someone, only he/she can't go while the rest are flying,” he added.

Saudi authorities also go tough on visas and Iqama extension making it difficult for Bangladeshi workers to return to the kingdom on time. On top of that, shortage of air tickets now creates uncertainty over their return.

Several Saudi returnees alleged that their employers now demand Tk 3 to 4 lakh for extending Iqama or leave. Many even took money but didn’t extended the term. 

Since most of the Saudi employers are not worker-friendly, Iqama will be invalid if its is not extended automatically, they said.

An official from Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) said the Saudi authorities have allowed to renew visa with strict conditions. 

“Application must be made through a recruiting agency enlisted with the Saudi Embassy. When we applied to the embassy for a visa renewal, they asked for a sponsor's paper. They don’t renew visa if the sponsor does not send paper via the Saudi foreign ministry,” said the official wishing anonymity.

Some Saudi employers even demand money to the workers to extend Iqama and leave. Now, the workers have to persuade their sponsors to get an Iqama extension by October 17, the official added.

On condition of anonymity, an official of the expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry told the Bangladesh Post the ministry has moved to list the Saudi returnees facing problems including visa, Iqama and flight tickets.

The ministry is yet to gather specific data on the number of the returnees, mostly from the Middle Eastern countries, as well as the state of their plight, the official added.