Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sad travails: Expat workers trapped as the clock ticks on amnesty

Bahrain Tribune Daily Newspaper, Bahrain
January 27, 2008
Fate of 500-odd Illegal Indian expats hangs in balance as amnesty set to end in 4 days
Bonny Mascarenhas
Staff Reporter

"With the extended general amnesty for illegal expats scheduled to come to an end in just four days, the fate of over 500 Indian illegals hangs in balance with their papers pending before the immigration authorities.
Of the 500-odd cases, about 150 pertain to lack of passports and are likely to be cleared without much of hassle. It is the remaining 400 who are really worried because there are cases pending against them and are required to pay fines ranging from BD100 to BD500 [1 Bahraini dinar=about $3 US], and they have nobody to turn to for help.
"The Indian embassy, in conjunction with community association, has said it would be willing to help a few cases but was not in a position to take care of such large numbers with the bill running up to BD10,000-plus. The embassy has already helped quite a few who had smaller fines slapped against them.
"A case in point is Selvamani Ram, a 48-year-old Indian expat who is caught between the devil and the deep sea. He doesn’t have the resources to raise BD250 required to pay off the fine ordered by the court when his sponsor filed a runaway case against him. And he couldn’t take up any job to save the money since under the labour law, it is illegal for anyone to work for anyone other than the original sponsor. “Currently, the labour law states that expatriates cannot work for another employer if he or she has a legal complaint against them,” a social worker said on condition of anonymity. So what do such illegals do? Selvamani’s is not an isolated case, with dozens of Indian expats, and probably others from the subcontinent, facing the same predicament.
"Speaking to the Tribune, Selvamani said he came to Bahrain 19 years ago and had run away when he was told that he would be deported within a year of service. He has since lived by doing odd-jobs, not enough to save money for the fine. Selvamani approached the Indian embassy on Friday in an old cream coloured shirt which had seen better days. “I was told by the immigration department that I have to pay money to leave,” he told embassy officials. “I don’t have any money as I am not working.” He said he slept on the streets and sometimes in friend’s places. Some community members corroborated this and said they gave him BD1 daily to purchase food.
"The embassy with the help of the community agreed to bear a part of the fine but asked him to arrange for the rest. The question is what will Selvamani, and dozens others like him, do?"

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