Saturday, 19 July 2008

In desperate need of help....

There was a different feeling that greeted me to the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia, this time. I didn't feel like I was entering a place where I had spent the last 17 years of my life, a place where I was born. I was sweating at the check in counter, more then the humidity I think it was the imaginary tension in the air that was the main cause. Everywhere I looked, I felt like people were staring at me, " Look there goes a Bangladeshi, there goes a murderer."

All right , I agree , I might have just exaggerated a bit in the above paragraph, but I have to admit that I was pretty scared entering the country after living abroad for 7 months, and reading about the Bangladeshi worker who allegedly killed a Bahrain national did not make things easier. Surprisingly though the check in in Bahrain was smooth, it took me just 10 minutes to get my luggage and finally after a delay of around 1 hour I got into the bus that was going to take me to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. So, there I was sitting in the bus, saying to myself, the situation is not that bad after all , maybe its just me who needs to be more calm and stop depending on the NEWS ! But then again, I was wrong. We started from Bahrain at 11 pm and reached Dammam at 4 in the morning. A route that usually takes 1 to 1.5 hours at max! What was the reason ? It was none other then the " Bangladeshis" once again. While entering Saudi Arabia, the check in post literally interviewed every Bangladeshi in the bus and the rest of the people ( Indians and Pakistanis mostly) had to wait for 2 whole hours. Of course, we cant actually blame the Saudi officials for doing that, considering the very " HIGH" reputation that the Bangladeshi laborers have in Saudi Arabia. Majority of them were uneducated and didn't even know the name of their sponsor, as a result it took a very long time for all of them to get through. Since, I was a regular traveler, I didn't have the grand opportunity to be interviewed by the Saudi officials .

The point that I really want to emphasize here is that , there were many Indians and Pakistanis in my bus who were not educated, who did not know who their sponsor was and in order to time many of them were helped to fill up the necessary forms. However, they were not questioned as severely as the Bangladeshis were. The security Check in for Bangladeshi citizens became a lot more strict after the "murder incident"( mentioned earlier) that took place in Bahrain. All right , fine lets look at this situation through the eyes of an Arab. Of course we wouldn't want murderers to enter the country, so I guess the extra security check in was acceptable.

The drama however does not end here, the Saudi government recently decided to follow a very harmful and a very confusing ( confusing to me and the rest of the Bangladeshis) theory. They decided not to renew the Iqamas or Visas of the Bangladeshis who have either just turned 18 or are not under a professional working visa. According to the system in Saudi Arabia, every person who reaches the age of 18 , needs to have a separate iqama or a visa or an identity card in order to represent oneself as a legal citizen in Saudi Arabia. This new rule is very randomly followed, majority of the applications are being rejected, some of them however , due to some LOGICAL reasoning are accepted. This move may not effect the working laborers or other Bangladeshi workers , however it happens to be a huge problem for the Bangladeshi students and youngsters in a major way ! According to sources, the Bangladeshi schools in Jeddah , Riyadh and Dammam have already received an order from the govt of Saudi to remove the A level examinations from their school , since there would be practically no students sitting for it !

The most confusing part of it all , is the fact that all this has happened only because of one person who just happened to be a Bangladeshi. This recent " kick the Bangladeshis out " move affects , not the laborers but the students. How can any of these youngsters be blamed for just a random Bangladeshi who supposedly killed ( There are again many different stories about the murder) someone. It is really sad to see majority of the students leaving what also may be the birth place for some of them, half way through their academic year. Some of them have to drop a year and many of them have to start a fresh new life in Bangladesh.

According to Bangladeshi worker , who also graduated from the Bangladeshi school in Dammam," The current problem will mostly be a temporary one and this situation may not last for more then 2 to 3 months, however the ones who have to renew their iqama during this period are severely unlucky" he said.According to an article in the the daily star ( the Bahrain govt will be soon lifting the ban that was placed on importing Bangladeshi laborers after the controversial incident, with some conditions. Lets just hope that the govt. of Saudi Arabia learns something from their neighbors and remove the rules that have have actually violated human rights!

It wont be fair to entirely blame the Saudi Govt. for the present situation of the Bangladeshis, the embassy in Riyadh has been of "NO Importance" at all. "Foreigners from other countries can probably kill a person and still receive shelter at their own embassy, however the Bangladeshi embassy is completely opposite. They bring along with them the dirty politics outside the country and rarely answer the people's calls." said a Bangladeshi worker who stays in Dammam and also has a child who will be giving his A levels this year. " All they want to do is come to a Bangladeshi citizens house and eat" said a Bangladeshi professor, currently teaching at a University in Dammam.

Bangladeshi laborers in Saudi Arabia have been suffering for a long time, some of them don't get their monthly dues while others are cheated by their sponsors. Without a proper embassy the problems will continue to go on and many people will continue to suffer. One may however argue and say that a major problem is that the Bangladeshi laborers are uneducated and as a result tend to fall into trouble and other unwanted business. Well, then lets consider the Bangladeshis working in the U.K. or in the United States. Bangladeshi laborers are sent there as well, so how come we don't hear about all these atrocities from Europe or the United States? Why is it always from the Gulf ?

To me, it all ends up to discrimination ( I am sure majority of you would not agree with me ), I have been living in Saudi for the past 17 years and yet till date I haven't seen an Arab cleaning the streets, its always a South Asian. More then 8 out of 10 times a man working at the petrol station or a waiter working at a restaurant, or a shop keeper ,turns out to be either an Indian, Pakistani or a Bangladeshi. No, I have no problem with them doing these jobs, its money that they need for their dying family and thats what matters. However, because they are looked down upon and because they are not considered important, thats where the problem begins. Now, personally speaking, I have never been racially discriminated or faced any kind of discrimination here, I mean I grew up around Indians and Bangladeshis and my dad happens to be an English professor. However, there are many Bangladeshis out there who don't get their paid on time and as a result have to change their job and sponsor. This article from the Arab News is just one example .


Now this post of mine is just my own thinking and my own theory based on different sources, facts and of course on my own experience. This is just my view and I would be more then glad to listen to others and correct myself. However, the one thing that I am really sure of, is that these people are desperately in need of help.



Antony K said...

Well, it's not just Bangladeshi labourers who aren't paid on time, there are many cases of Indian workers also not being paid on time. About the discrimination, I think history is not on your side. I've heard many cases of Bangladeshis caught for stealing, etc. While there might be many hardworking, honest B'deshis in Saudi, those B'deshis who did commit crimes were enough to spoil the whole image.

Another point is that there's a MUCH higher proportion of Indians and Pakistanis in white-collar, high-paying jobs that Bangladeshis, so when people think of Indians they might think of those rich people while for Bangladeshis, it's always the janitors, labourers, etc.

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Hestia said...