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Making it unbearable to be an expat
June 3, 2013, 1:25 pm
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KSHR fires missive- describes measures as oppressive and violative

Special Report

Lately, it would appear that Kuwait has been making it unbearable to be an expatriate. Last month, the minister of social affairs and labour, Thekra Al-Rasheedi, announced that Kuwait plans to deport around 100,000 expats every year – in order to reduce the number of foreign residents by one million – for the next decade.

Interestingly enough, nobody knows what measures would be used to get the residents to actually leave, but a similar scheme is happening in Saudi Arabia as we write. Currently, expats make up 68 per cent of Kuwait’s population – approximately 2.6 million.

However, in a strong rebuff to the `deportation spree’ already underway , the Kuwait Society for Human Rights has described the deportations as “oppressive” and urged the government to stop, as it “violates the basic principles of human rights” and could tarnish the state’s image – particularly at a time when its human rights record is already under scrutiny.

The KSHR missive came as the noose began to tighten around the neck of the expatriate population in Kuwait in line with the last month announcement by the minister of social affairs and labour.

Two Asian embassies are reported to have already registered their complaint to Kuwaiti officials about the “arbitrary actions” taken during the deportation of illegal residents and lawbreakers, who were arrested in a series of crackdowns over the past few weeks across the country, a local daily reported last week.

Alarmingly, Kuwait has recently started deporting expat residents for traffic offences, including driving without a licence, using their cars to carry paying passengers, jumping a red light for the third time, or breaking the speed limit by more than 40 kilometres per hour. So far, more than 1,300 expats have been shown the door since the month-old crackdown began and violators can be deported without an official court order.

 In a nutshell, Kuwait appears to be on a ‘deportation spree’.

It is already difficult enough for any foreigner to obtain a driver’s licence as – according to a now decade-old decision – one must hold a university degree, earn at least $1,400 a month and have lived in Kuwait for at least two years.

Fear is the word that describes the present state of affair among the expat population. A number of expatriates in Kuwait are in a state of jittery after the government intensified its crackdown on foreign workers even as many in the marginal labor sector have reportedly gone into ‘hiding’ to avoid being caught or deported.

According to the statistics issued by the director general of immigration for 2012, there are around 93,000 illegal residents in Kuwait. Out of these, 38,000 are domestic workers.

 The growing feeling of uneasiness and fear among the expat population can be very well gauged by the fact that there is a sharp drop in peak-hour traffic on Kuwait motorways. At the same time, many office-goers admit that the crackdown has become a blessing in disguise as it has helped ease traffic congestion on roads. “Kuwait roads look better now, after the government action.

The Kuwait government has initiated several measures including suspension of issuing new work permits to reduce the number of expatriates by 100,000 every year over the next ten years. Many observe that some of these measures taken by the government to balance the demographics of the country are unprecedented, especially the indiscriminate rounding up of traffic violators and their immediate deportation, sending shockwaves across the foreign population in the country.

While some opine that the measures will help the country purge illegal residents and fake manpower recruiting agents and streamline the labor market, many think that the random raids and deportation will only damage the reputation and goodwill of the country. “It is a two-pronged strategy. Number one, the aggressive crackdown you see around you today. Number two is the slew of new measures that are proposed to force the expatriates out of the country.

The new laws that target expats under consideration include restrictions in healthcare services and scrapping of subsidies for services such as water, electricity and gas. There is also a growing fear that visas of many workers will not be renewed on expiry.

While authorities insist that the measures are part of the government’s efforts to regulate the labor market, especially the marginal labor, many small and medium businesses in the private sector are already worried about the cascading effect of the new measures on their businesses.

LABOR SHORTAGE

Many small and medium businesses are already feeling the pinch of labor shortage after several of their workers failed to report to work due to fear of arrest and subsequent deportation as they are not permitted to work with anyone other than their sponsors. Grocery shops, restaurants, bakeries, textile shops, beauty salons, transportation services bear the brunt of the staff shortage.

Several sub-contracting companies report that they find it difficult to supply unskilled workers to various construction and industrial jobs. Similarly, many report shortage of housemaids after the authorities intensified checking in residential areas.

More than 1,300 people of Arab and Asian nationalities have been deported since Kuwait launched crackdowns on traffic violators late last month. The General Traffic Department stated that deportation was enforced in cases of repeat offenders.

Thousands of others have been detained in simultaneous crackdowns targeting people with expired visas or those working in violation of labor regulations. Many of the deportees were sent back home through the use of travel documents released by their respective embassies, instead of their original passports that, in most cases, are kept by their sponsors.

Many expatriates arrested during the recent traffic crackdowns reportedly remain in custody, as their respective embassies refuse to grant authorities travel documents on the grounds that their visas are still valid. In that regard, the sources revealed the ministry had been trying to reach the employers in order to retrieve the passports of the soon-to-be-deported expatriates.

Meanwhile, a senior Interior Ministry official defended Kuwait’s right to deport illegal residents or foreigners who break the law. “It is the right of every country to deport expatriates who violate its residency laws or its laws in general, or take legal action against them, in order to maintain safety and security, in line with human rights principles,” 

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