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Dear Mr. Labor Minister: ‘All we want is to go home!’

The Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih stated recently that corrective measures with more intensity will be applied soon and that the crackdown on violating expatriate workers is the goal. He added that no person should stay in this country who does not respect its regulations and immigration rules. Now all of this is fine and we agree with the minister, but he has missed a major point, which is: Why are thousands of both  white and blue collar workers in violation of his own ministry’s rules?

I have over the years made a study of how we have reached this situation, and it does not take a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to find the answer. Over a period of time, I have received messages from stranded workers who were promised high salaries, good accommodation and other benefits and were brought to the Kingdom only to find themselves cooped up in a room with eight to 10 other workers. Then there are those who were brought to the country by “visa traders” and were handed over to other companies and contractors who were declared bankrupt. So no salaries, no food and to top it all, no documents to prove they are working legally.

These people are periodically rounded up by the police and put in deportation centers. In one case, a Filipino was detained in Riyadh while his wife was in Jeddah along with their six-month-old infant. The rule is that they should be deported together! I was asked to help but ended up almost having a nervous breakdown after I saw the plight of so many unfortunate workers. 

And while we claim to be a virtuous society, we have heartless people who declare that their workers have run away (huroub) so that they will not have to pay them their salaries or end-of-service benefits. In fact I am dealing with a heartbreaking case now where the sponsor is demanding money from a poor worker to release him from obligations and let him go home.

While we support the Nitaqat program we should be frank and state that the implementation of the program has not taken place.  On WhatsApp, I get numerous messages from desperate workers pleading: “We are not violators of Saudi laws. We have not been given our wages and salaries for months. All we want is to go home!”

These are not isolated instances. The rush to make money gave rise to a new industry – the selling of visas.  And we have to be brave enough to admit this exists and we have to find a way to put a stop to it.

Such wicked activities by certain individuals and companies give our country a bad name and we don’t deserve that.  So instead of blaming workers, we should immediately look into this matter and make solving it our highest priority. Unfortunately, some writers in order to gain attention are outdoing each other in the criticism of expatriate workers and are overlooking the root cause of the problem.

 It is heart wrenching to see these poor homeless and hungry workers in this condition in our land. We must take action and see to it that a solution is found. The Minister of Labor should have someone pay a visit to the deportation centers to see how many expatriate workers there are who have documents but due to bad sponsors who have no fear of God find themselves in a dire predicament.

This issue has to be resolved and I hope that the minister and others in a position of authority are able to hear and respond to the desperate plea of these workers: “All we want is to go home!”


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