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Amnesty provides a way out for victims of abuse

Absconder ‘sold’ to employer in Saudi Arabia – Illegals leave the door open for a return to Kuwait in the future

KUWAIT: People lined up outside the Indian Embassy’s building yesterday. —Photo by Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: The Philippines and Indian embassies are flooded with people who want to avail of the amnesty given to residency violators (from Jan 29 to Feb 22, 2018). Based on the statistics provided to Kuwait Times by the interior ministry, around 130,000 expats can benefit from this amnesty. But behind the smiling or anxious faces of people queuing up to apply for their travel documents, both at the Philippines and Indian embassies, there are a lot of stories. Why did they end up as illegals, or in violation of the Kuwait residency law?

Belinda and Rosie, not their real names, came to know each other in Ishbilya. According to the two women, this is a Kuwaiti area – very peaceful and quiet – and therefore sees little police checking. Their sponsor was an Arab man named “Baba Yousef” who exploited women looking for jobs. Belinda and Rosie were both sold to Baba Yousef, whose “business” is thriving with the help of a Filipina girlfriend.

That Pinay, named Noora, coordinates with maids through Facebook. They contact women and goad them to flee their sponsors’ houses to get a job under an article 18 visa. But once they accept the offer, they are required to work 8-12 hours daily for KD 120 and no day off. “We were made to work eight hours daily at different houses of people of various nationalities. The salary was KD 120 only, though we should have got more than KD 400. They earned a lot from us,” Belinda said. So when she got an opportunity, she ran away.

Sold to employer
Rosie was ‘sold’ to a Saudi employer by Baba Yousef. Rosie was adamant to work in only one house. So when a Saudi employer asked for maid, Rosie was the first choice. She was taken to Saudi Arabia and stayed there for over six months. “I was fortunate to come back. But during the time I was demanding a regular employer, Baba Yousef got irritated and punched me in my face and stomach. But when we got a chance to escape, we ran away with the rest of the girls. I don’t know if they are running rackets in other areas, but at my Isbilya camp, we all ran away,” she said.

Belinda can easily go home, but Rosie has a theft case filed against her by her previous employer. “That theft case is just her own creation to hold on to me, because she said I could transfer to another employer provided that I pay her KD 1,500. Where on earth could I get that amount?” she said.

The amnesty decree (no. 64/2018) gives illegal residents two options – they can either leave the country during the abovementioned period through any port without getting permission from any authority and without paying any penalties; or they can legalize their status and continue residing in Kuwait after paying all fines and obtaining a valid visa without being referred to the investigation department. Residency violators who are banned from travelling or have a court case should visit the residency affairs department to discuss the possibility of getting a valid visa during the amnesty period.

Take the chance
Binu (not his real name) from India has been living in Kuwait for the last two years without a visa. Now he wants to go back to India, and if there is an opportunity to come back, he will take the chance. Binu, 42, absconded from his first job because he failed to open the shop he was tending, which happened only once. “I had a tooth problem and my face was swollen. When my boss found out that I was not able to open the shop, he was furious. He demanded I open the shop. He arrived a few minutes later, and before I could even speak, he hit me in the face. After that incident, I felt very bad, so I left a few months later,” he said.

Binu is married with two children – the eldest is 19 and the youngest is nine years old, and both are studying. “My wife is in India. She has polio, so yes, I am struggling just to be able to provide for my family. After a year since I encountered that problem with my previous boss, I found work with the boss of my friend, who is a good man,” he said.

Sujin (also not his real name) from India, is also without a residency visa since 2014. He was a family driver for a rich Kuwaiti family, but he says that they were not treating him well. “For the last four years, I do not have legal residency. I left my original sponsor because he was abusive. He used to shout and sometimes punch me in my face. I did not like the way he treated me. When I got a chance, I ran away. So he filed an absconding case against me,” he said.

Sujin, 29, said his next job was also as a family driver. “They were kindhearted and wanted to give me a visa, but they could not do anything because I had an absconding case against me. When I drive my employers around, I am not afraid even if there are police, because police won’t check my papers because I am with my bosses. So I am free of any stress while driving,” he said.

Regular conditions
Those who leave the country during this amnesty period are allowed to reenter Kuwait if they meet the regular conditions of entry and if they were not banned for another reason. This decree does not apply to expats who will lose their legal residency status after the amnesty period. If an illegal resident is caught during the amnesty period, they will be deported immediately.

Residency violators who do not leave the country during the amnesty period will face legal penalties, will not be given a valid visa, will be deported, and will not be allowed to enter Kuwait again. Those who want to legalize their status and stay in the country will pay a penalty of KD 2 for each day up to a total of KD 600, even if they were in violation for a longer period. The last time an ‘amnesty’ was granted was in January 2016, but it was partial, as violators who wanted to leave the country still had to pay fines. The last full amnesty (leaving without paying fines) was granted in 2011. The amnesty comes as a relief for thousands of workers forced to illegally extend their stay in Kuwait due to non-payment of salaries.

By Ben Garcia

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