In the aftermath, mountains of debt remain

By Sahar Moussa

Many residents who left Kuwait during the pandemic were stranded abroad due to the airport’s closure. The reopening of the airport on August 1 to foreign residents felt like the start of a new chapter, an answer to their prayers. But thousands returned to piled up debts, overdue rents and mounting financial woes.

Kuwait lost nearly 200,000 foreign residents since the pandemic started. Many now are returning but are facing a challenging future. Some were laid off from their jobs or lost their businesses and were unable to repay their debts. The financial difficulties also hit Kuwaiti entrepreneurs as well — leading many to close their businesses for good.

Kuwait, just as any other country in the world, is gradually returning to so-called “normal life”. People are celebrating the reopening of entertainment centers and halls, children’s play areas, restaurants, cinemas, schools, nurseries and the most important place — the airport. Resuming direct flights with India, Egypt and other countries was the biggest relief for many residents stranded abroad for months, away from their families and jobs. But will the situation be normal for these people who are coming back to face bank loans, accumulated back rent and the possibility of losing their jobs?

While stranded abroad, some residents were obliged to work remotely for their companies in Kuwait unpaid. The companies did not give or send them their salaries — and fearful of losing their jobs and hoping to retain them, they bitterly acquiesced. I know many companies were not able to recoup their losses and had to close their businesses. However, some companies also took advantage of the situation.

The government did announce a slew of measures with the aim of boosting the economy in the wake of COVID-19. Kuwait Banking Association announced a moratorium of up to six months on repayment of bank loans, including waiver of interest and charges for retail clients (citizens and residents) and SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises). They then extended this grace period for another six months, albeit for Kuwaitis only.

This was very helpful for citizens and residents—Kuwait should be thanked and appreciated for this thoughtful initiative. Still, thousands of people lost their jobs, had their salaries cut or were forced to work remotely without being paid. Meanwhile landlords and banks are filing lawsuits against residents who couldn’t send money to pay their rent or loans while stranded abroad, and they have been blacklisted. This is a similar story for Kuwaitis who lost their businesses and now face mountains of debt.

Maybe we are at the end of this pandemic and back to normalcy, but the financial situation for thousands if not tens of thousands of people in Kuwait is a black hole that will take years to fill. We should stand side by side with those who are suffering. It is our duty as human beings to help those in need, to feel that we are all part of a community. We should help each other during this global crisis that managed to impact each and every one of us economically, physically and psychologically, or else we will all sink.

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