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18 May, 2017 12:05:29 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 18 May, 2017 10:38:37 AM

Thousands fear detention

Bangladesh embassy staff overburdened with huge demand for travel documents for expatriates
Thousands fear detention

Thousands of Bangladeshis living illegally in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are in fear of detention by the Saudi authorities as they are yet to arrange travel documents from the Bangladesh missions to leave the country within an amnesty period ending in June.

Sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment said, a large number of Bangladeshis living in KSA illegally have contacted the embassy in Riyadh and office of consulate general in Jeddah for travel documents to return to Bangladesh. This was prompted by an announcement of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, who offered an amnesty period of 90 days beginning from March 29, for violators of the residency (iqama), labor and border security regulations, to leave the country without penalties.
But, the officials and the staff at the embassy and the consulate office are facing difficultly to cope with the huge rush of issuing travel documents to the expatriates Bangladeshis within a short period due to the lack of manpower. Bangladesh Ambassador to Riyadh Golam Moshi sent letters to the home minister, secretaries of the foreign ministry,  principal secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, secretary of service security division and the expatriate ministry separately requesting emergency recruitment of 50 temporary staff for three months to issue travel documents to the expatriate Bangladeshis. 
“In the letter, sent to the secretary (Bilateral and Consular) of the foreign ministry on March 29 this year, the ambassador mentioned, “We are getting a large number of Bangladeshis arriving at our Chancery for on-line registration/appointment with immigration authority of the KSA for exit. 

This number is likely to increase in coming days. We do not have an adequate number of staff-members to address/handle the issue, so I once again request you to approve temporary recruitment of local staff (with Arabic knowledge). 
We have to issue travel passes for them (expatriate Bangladeshis) as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will face serious problems with large influx of illegal Bangladeshi workers in the chancery as well as with the local authorities (immigration and 
“If we fail to issue travel passes to the expatriate Bangladeshis within the shortest possible time, they face fine and jail sentences,” the letter added.
In another letter sent to the home minister, Ambassador Moshi said that they do not have the exact figure of expatriate Bangladeshis illegally staying in Saudi Arabia. “The number may stand at 50,000-80,000,” the letter added.  
In 2013, he said, a similar amnesty was announced to legalise the status of undocumented workers staying in the Kingdom and that about 8 lakh Bangladeshis took consular services from the embassy at that time. 
Of them, 31,000 Bangladeshis have returned home.   
After receiving the letter, the foreign ministry forwarded a letter to the ministry of home affairs to take necessary steps in this regard as the home ministry had sent its officials and staffs to the KSA on an emergency basis earlier for issuing Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) to the Bangladeshi expatriates. 
But, the Security Services Division of the home ministry categorically said that it is not their task and is the matter of the foreign ministry and the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, sources in the home ministry said.
Additional secretary (immigration) of Security Services Division, Dr. Rakhal Chandra Barman, said they have refused to send their officials and staff to the KSA for that purpose.
“It is not our tasks, the ministry of foreign affairs is responsible for that and they will handle the problems,” he said.
Many Bangladeshis became illegal migrants there as they overstayed after going to Saudi Arabia with valid visa to perform Haj or Umrah or in transit.
Golam Moshi, Bangladesh Ambassador to KSA, told The Independent yesterday that they have issued travel passes at least 26,000 Bangladeshi expats during the last 45 days.
“We have opened six new counters at the embassy in Riyadh and four counters in Jeddah to issue temporary travel documents to the Bangladeshis who are staying in Saudi Arabia illegally,” he said.
“We have written letter to the ministry concerned seeking permission to recruit some staff temporarily from the locals to issue travel documents to the illegal Bangladeshis. But, they (the ministry) are yet to respond. As such, our staff are working relentlessly to issue as many travel documents as possible,” he said.
He said that the authorities concerned of the Saudi Government are cooperating with them on this matter. Some Bangladeshis, who had stayed in KSA illegally, have left the country after getting temporary travel documents, he added.
He also informed that there are at least 800 Bangladeshis in Saudi jails for committing various crimes.
In 2013, a similar campaign took place to legalise the status of undocumented workers in the Kingdom. Back then, a three-month amnesty was announced in April 2013 and later the then King Abdullah extended the grace period to November 2013.
Over 2.5 million foreign nationals staying in KSA illegally left the country under that campaign, According to reports of Saudi Gazette.   
After a relative lax monitoring on overstaying foreign nationals, the Saudi authorities have recently made strict regulations to control illegal migrants.
Foreigners on residence visas face a fine of 10,000 riyals and deportation during the first offence and can go up-to 50,000-riyal and six months in prison followed by deportation for repeated offences. 
Those living and working in Saudi Arabia illegally will be fined 15,000 riyals and jailed for two months before deportation for a first offence and can go up-to 100,000 riyals and six months in prison with deportation for repeated offences.
According to sources, about 17 lakh Bangladeshis are currently working in Saudi Arabia. 



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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