Labor Minister Dr. Majeed bin Mohsin Al Alawi has ordered the establishment of a Supreme General Amnesty Supervisory Committee to formulate policies, facilitate procedures and monitor the progress of the ongoing amnesty process. The committee formed early this month is also tasked with updating data and preparing periodic reports on the outcome of the amnesty program. Meanwhile, concerned embassies have asked the Bahraini government for guidelines on processing applications from dependents of migrant workers, such as homemakers and children, who have irregular status. They complained that the Amnesty Guide issued by the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) was focused solely on procedures for irregular migrant workers and had no information on this matter.
In related news, the LMRA warned that rogue employers who have been hampering the amnesty by hanging on to their workers' passports would face tough action. LMRA chief executive Ali Radhi also clarified that during the amnesty period, expatriates with expired visit visas would not be able to get a local transfer but they may freely go home without facing fines or penalties. He explained that the priority of the current campaign is to regularize the status of workers who entered Bahrain on a work permit.
The LMRA has announced a new system at the immigration offices in order to regulate the flow of workers availing of the general amnesty. Under the system, migrant workers whose residence permits (RP) expired before 2000 should process their papers at the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence (GDNPR) this month. Those whose permits expired in 2000 and 2001 should present their papers to the GDNRP next month; people with RPs that expired in 2002 and 2003 should go there in October while workers with expired RPs starting 2004 and 2005 should visit the office in November. December would be reserved for workers whose RPs expired last year and this year. However, emergency cases would be attended to at any time within the five-month amnesty period, LMRA chief executive Ali Radhi explained.
Despite measures taken by the government to ease applicant flow, dozens of amnesty seekers, mostly Indians and Bangladeshis, were allegedly seen queuing outside the immigration office under the midday heat to file papers for exit passes.
The GDNRP has opened special counters at its main office and deployed 15 specialist staff to attend to the needs of the amnesty-seekers. The Immigration Department has extended its working hours from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm to facilitate the processing of clearances and travel documents. Staff from the LMRA will also manage two counters at the immigration department in Hoora to fingerprinting those leaving the country or trying to regularize their status.
Meanwhile, the GDNPR has reportedly received a total of 2,522 amnesty applications as of 13 August. Of this number, 69 had been rejected for failing to meet amnesty conditions, 1,760 were applications to renew residency permits and leave the country, 438 were for local transfer while 255 were for changing professions.
Some embassies in Bahrain have appealed to airline companies to offer cheaper airfares to expatriates who took advantage of the amnesty. Gulf Air has responded by introducing reduced rates for one-way tickets to 18 destinations, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Yemen, Iran, Syria, the Philippines and Thailand. Oman Air has likewise offered a special fare for amnesty seekers. A spokesperson for Air India in Bahrain said the issue of cheaper flights is one of the issues currently being discussed by officials but the airline is still awaiting orders from the Indian government on the matter.
Religious groups in Bahrain have joined in the government's amnesty awareness campaign to encourage more irregular migrants to avail of the program and to address the confusion over some guidelines. Although expatriate workers were generally aware of the amnesty many of them were allegedly clueless on how to benefit from it. There is also widespread misconception that they will be blacklisted and deported if they applied for amnesty. Father Thomas Quadros, parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, Pastor Alfredo Cudiamat of the Bahrain Fellowship Community from the National Evangelical Church and Father Rijo Kochukunnel of the St. Peter's Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church all said they will speak about the amnesty during their church services.
Slow flow of Bangladeshi amnesty applicants
Bangladeshi Embassy interim charge d'affaires Masudur Rahman feared that the potential for irregular migrant workers in Bahrain to earn more money than those working for a sponsor might prevent a number of expatriates from availing of the government's amnesty offer. Rahman said that workers could earn up to BD100 a month cleaning cars, tending gardens or babysitting, which is more than the BD60 salary a sponsor would pay them. Moreover, embassy officials said Bangladeshi expatriates might not consider it a good time to return home due to the recent devastating monsoon floods in the country. Meanwhile, among those who applied for amnesty, 90 percent did not have passports since these were allegedly withheld either by their sponsors or by middlemen.
Indian Ambassador Balkrishna Shetty revealed that the embassy has made preparations to handle an expected large number of amnesty seekers, including allocating space at the nearby Tamil Social and Cultural Association office for the use of those undergoing the initial documentation process. During the first week of the amnesty period a total of 455 Indian migrant workers have gone to the Indian embassy; 323 of them had no passports and were at there to apply for emergency certificates while another 132 had sought assistance to forward their amnesty applications to the GDNPR. Most of the applicants preferred to return home rather than seek another job in Bahrain, the envoy noted.
The Pakistani Embassy in Zinj has mobilized community members to disseminate information about the program, displayed notices about the ongoing campaign in the Urdu language and set up a special amnesty counter to help applicants. Out of some 45,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain, more than 1,500 are believed to be undocumented. According to community welfare attaché Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani, the first 13 days of the campaign have seen nearly 135 Pakistani migrant workers applying for the amnesty. However, none of these applicants were long-term overstayers who have been working "underground" in Bahrain for more than 20 to 30 years. Embassy officials suspect these workers may have deliberately shunned the amnesty because of fear that they would no longer be welcomed by their families back home.
According to Sri Lanka's honorary consul, P.B. Higgoda, some 50 Sri Lankan migrant workers have applied for amnesty in the first three days of the campaign period. Many of the applicants who submitted their papers at the Sinhalese Club were allegedly runaway domestic workers or those who have overstayed their visas. Higgoda called on other Sri Lankan irregular migrant workers to take advantage of the ongoing general amnesty. Since the Sri Lankan Embassy responsible for its citizens in Bahrain is based in Kuwait, amnesty applicants may submit their applications at the Sinhalese Club on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Higgoda will then forward all qualified applications to the embassy in Kuwait for further processing.
According to Consulate Third Secretary, Ahmed Saifuddin, as of 6 August no amnesty seeker has yet approached the mission. There are some 10,000 Indonesians working in Bahrain, 8,000 of them domestic workers while the rest are in the service sector as sales clerks, hotel staff, and mechanics. Indonesian officials have sought the help of community leaders to disseminate information about the amnesty and encourage irregular migrant workers to take advantage of the offer. Minister counselor Aang Wirtadjaja said it is difficult for the consulate to ensure that their nationals have received information about the amnesty since most of them work in private homes. It is possible that the visas and residence permits of some Indonesian domestic workers may have expired, he added.
80% of Filipino amnesty applicants are women
The Philippine Embassy has formed a special committee to oversee the implementation of the amnesty among Filipino nationals. Out of some 40,000 Filipino workers in Bahrain, around 10,000 are believed to have irregular status. On the third week of the amnesty period, Philippine Embassy officials said that 80 percent of amnesty applicants were women, including domestic workers and restaurant and hospital workers. Philippine Embassy second secretary Indhira Banares disclosed that the repatriation of some Filipinos availing of the amnesty may be delayed by their pending court cases. Hopefully these would be resolved before the amnesty period expires at the end of the year, the diplomat added.
Among those who have applied for exit passes are three undocumented Filipino children of Bahraini residents Arsenio and Carol Managbanag– Jordan, 2, Michelle, 8, and Diane, 11. The couple, although legitimate residents, was unable to secure visas for their children because their salaries did not meet the minimum required for those seeking dependents' visas. Carol and her children were among the first to apply for the amnesty at the Philippine Embassy.
The Royal Thai Embassy has resorted to distributing pamphlets containing information about the amnesty in a bid to encourage overstaying Thai nationals to take advantage of the offer. These pamphlets are posted in front of the embassy premises and in areas frequented by Thai nationals, such as restaurants and supermarkets. In addition, the embassy scheduled an open house on 12 August to further highlight amnesty procedures. Embassy officials believe that there are up to 1,000 undocumented Thais in the country. However, only about 30 people inquired at the embassy about the program as of 5 August. A spokesperson for the Thai Embassy said that many Thais are hesitant to take part in the amnesty for fear that they might get arrested and banned from re-entering Bahrain.
According to the LMRA, employers who obtain money, benefit or privilege from foreign workers in exchange for the issuance of work permits or continued employment would face imprisonment of up to one year and/or a maximum fine of BD2,000 per worker involved. The same penalties would also apply to companies that employ irregular migrant workers and manpower agencies operating without licenses. These penalties would be imposed beginning 1 January when the five-month general amnesty expires. LMRA chief executive Ali Radhi called on foreign embassies to support the Bahraini government for the smooth and successful implementation of the general amnesty program.
Thai Ambassador Phitak Phrombubpha said the embassy has compiled a list of more than 100 Thai women who have been missing in Bahrain for months. He said it is possible that these women are being held in prostitution dens in the kingdom. The envoy also revealed that some Thai girls have been duped into sex slavery with false promises of marriage. They are allegedly put up in an apartment and visited once a week by their boyfriends but could not escape because their passports had been confiscated.
A Filipina domestic worker, 27, was sentenced to six months imprisonment by the Lower Criminal Court on charges of stealing a Rolex watch worth BD10,000 from her Bahraini sponsor's 32-year old son. She will also be deported upon completion of her jail term. The owner accused the domestic worker of theft when the watch went missing from the sponsor's home in Hoora on 17 July, despite her insistence that she knew nothing about it.
10 distressed women in safe house
Ten domestic workers have been given refuge at a safe house for distressed Indonesian workers in Muharraq since it was put up this January. Indonesian Minister Counselor Aang Wirtadjaja said the facility was much needed because of the rising number of Indonesian domestic workers employed in Bahrain.
The Lower Criminal Court sentenced two Sri Lankans to six months in prison each on charges of traveling with the use of forged Malaysian passports. The men were arrested by immigration authorities upon arrival at the Bahrain International Airport. According to the pair, they paid an agent in Malaysia to make passports for them for $2,000.
Bangladesh has decided to lift its three-year ban on the deployment of domestic workers to Bahrain and other countries. The ban was initially imposed to protect Bangladeshi workers from abusive employers. According to Bangladesh Embassy first secretary for political affairs Masudur Rahman, domestic workers would be allowed to work in Bahrain only if a strict set of criteria is followed.
Bangladeshi worker, Abul Khayer Abdul Khalek, 39, who broke his leg in a worksite accident, may not qualify for compensation because he is employed on a free visa. Abdul Khalek was run over by a roller machine on 27 June when its driver accidentally reversed onto him. He is confined at the Salmaniya Medical Complex. According to immigration records, Abdul Khalek was supposed to be working for Nasrah Building Maintenance Construction Company. However, the company may have lent him to another firm at the time of the accident. Meanwhile, embassy officials are seeking compensation for the family of 41-year old construction worker, Ramzan Abdur Rashid, who was crushed to death under cement blocks at a construction project in Sehla on 7 August.
Bahraini authorities have deported Bangladeshi domestic worker, Ruma Noor-ul-Islam, 37, after she made a move to meet with her sponsor. The domestic worker went missing on 25 March after being diagnosed with full-blown tuberculosis. Ruma allegedly wanted to stay in Bahrain so she could earn more money but doctors recommended her immediate deportation since her condition had become "unmanageable."
India has decided to impose tight restrictions on the deployment of Indian female workers to Bahrain and other countries in the Gulf region. Under new rules, all Indian female workers, including domestic workers, salesworkers, seamstresses, waitresses and other workers in the service sector who hold emigration clearance-required (ECR) passports will not be allowed to work in countries that do not have labor pacts with India. Previously this rule was applied only to domestic workers. The new rules also impose a $250 (BD94) minimum salary for all household service workers in 18 countries, including Bahrain.
27 workers suffer from heat exhaustion
Some 27 Asian laborers have been brought to the Salmaniya Medical Complex early this month for treatment of severe heat exhaustion. The workers were allegedly forced to work during the hottest time of the day in violation of the midday ban. The law bans outdoor work from noon to 4:00 pm during the months of July and August because of the unbearable heat. Foreign workers are also advised to add salt to their drinking water to avoid heat exhaustion.
The Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry's contractors' committee vice-chairperson Nedham Kameshki revealed that up to 90,000 foreign laborers working in the construction industry are irregular migrants. Kameshki said that it was a common practice among many companies to hire workers on free visas due to the shortage of labor. In addition, many firms seeking to maximize profits, willingly hire irregular migrant workers to avoid paying the high visa fees and the need to provide employees with accommodation, transport and insurance, he explained. He estimates that there are over 200,000 free visa workers in Bahrain and 80,000 to 90,000 of these are working in the construction sector.
Local teachers denounced a print advertisement released recently by the Ministry of Education for the recruitment of 30 foreign teachers from Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and other Arab countries. They said the ministry should have tapped the local market first before recruiting from other Arab countries because there are a number of jobless Bahraini teachers in the country.
Bahraini authorities are planning to grant entry visas and two-year renewable residence permits to retired expatriates who worked in the kingdom or other Gulf countries for a minimum of 15 years. The decision to allow self-sponsorship residence permits is part of efforts to encourage expatriates to spend their retirement in Bahrain. However, no date has been announced on when the measure would begin implementation.
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