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Illegal Nepali workers in Saudi Arabia return in droves

Publication Date : 18-07-2012


Nepali migrant workers residing illegally in Saudi Arabia are returning home in increasing numbers.

Records from the Nepali embassy in Saudi Arabia show that passports and travel documents are being issued to around 20 workers everyday.

The recent ease of access to travel documents and the provision of deportation for those residing in detention centres seem to have encouraged the homecoming.

According to the embassy, it provided legal documents to around 6,000 workers in the last ten months alone. Similarly, around 150 to 700 workers are admitting themselves to detention centers in Saudi Arabia everyday in hopes of returning home. Although the procedure is difficult, admission into the detention centre is the only way for illegal workers to leave Saudi Arabia, the only nation to require an exit visa.

Although official data shows an estimated 80,000 Nepalis working illegally in Saudi Arabia, unofficial records claim the number is as high as 100,000.

Illegal workers comprise those who left their jobs, those who overstayed without renewing their visas and those who were working illegally on tourist visas.

With neither pre-departure orientation nor knowledge of the customs and traditions of the destination country, migrant workers are often exposed to high risk of death and exploitation. It is difficult to even trace the dead and transport their corpses back home.

With the frenetic pace of departures, the embassy officials estimate that the majority of illegal workers will be cleared in a couple of years. Officials claim the departure of illegal workers will lessen the frequency of death, illnesses, wage disputes and exploitation.

"The illegal worker is our main problem. Lacking legal status, they face problems in getting safe work, good wages and security," said Nepali Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Udaya Raj Pandey.

Pandey told the Post that there has been a decline in the number of workers becoming illegal in recent months as the Nepali embassy has been reaching out worker bases to raise awareness about the hazards of working and residing illegally.

"The embassy has been traveling across Saudi Arabia in its campaign to raise awareness. We have been providing orientation to workers so that they will not stay here illegally," said Pandey.

The Nepali mission has also appealed to the workers to contact their office in case of any problems, said the officials. The mission now receives a number of worker visits or phone calls regarding problems related to their work, wages, safety and security.

"The embassy has been helping workers resolve their problems. Hopefully, others with similar problems will be encouraged to settle their problem through the embassy rather than leaving their jobs and becoming illegal," Pandey said.

Latest records show that around 3,200 migrant worker deaths in Saudi Arabia since the establishment of the embassy in 1978. Majority of the deaths have been of illegal workers.


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