By B Izzak
KUWAIT: Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh yesterday issued the strongest warning so far that the government is determined to “eradicate” the illicit visa-trading business in Kuwait, saying authorities have interrogated 1,600 victims. Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry meanwhile said at least 400,000 expat workers are victims of visa traders and called for fundamental policies and actions to find a durable solution to the crisis.
Speaking on Kuwait Television, the interior minister said interior ministry officials have interrogated at least 1,600 foreign workers who said they are victims of visa traders. He said that the interrogations took place at makeshift shelters set up for thousands of expat workers who were living illegally in the country but registered to benefit from a one-month amnesty granted by the ministry.
Saleh said that these shelters currently house some 4,000 Egyptians and an equal number of Bangladeshis, and there are others from other nationalities. “From them, we gathered names of sponsors, the way they came to the country, the sums they paid and blackmail methods,” said the minister, adding that this information was given by people who are leaving the country and have nothing to lose. The minister said that more detailed information including statistics will be announced.
Saleh said that after authorities compared the information supplied by the workers with their files, they found most of the information was correct, adding that authorities will continue with their crackdown. “We feel ashamed that such type of trafficking in persons exists here and God willing, we will eradicate it from the country,” said the minister, recalling that Kuwait is a country of humanity and its Amir is a leader of humanity.
Head of the Chamber Of Commerce and Industry Mohammad Al-Sager said yesterday that although legal measures are necessary and essential to punish visa traders, they must be accompanied by policies to completely end this phenomenon. He said the problem of “marginal” expat workers dates back to more than three decades and has prospered because of huge profits divided between traders and those who facilitate this illegal business for them.
Sager said that although no credible data is available about the numbers of “marginal” expat workers, the chamber believes that at least 400,000 expats are victims of the visa trading business, which is equal to 23 percent of expatriate workers in Kuwait excluding domestic helpers.
He said in a statement that these “marginal” expat workers are divided into three groups: The first have legal residencies and contracts but don’t receive salaries on a regular basis; the second type are those whose residencies are on paper companies and have no permanent jobs and seek daily work, but still pay huge sums for renewal of their permits; while the third are those who have no residency and no jobs and are mostly unskilled to do any job.
Sager said that to eradicate this phenomenon, a serious and thorough revision of the sponsorship system must be carried out in order to differentiate between high-skilled expats whose jobs can be gradually replaced by Kuwaitis and unskilled foreign workers who work in marginal jobs which Kuwaitis are unlikely to do any time in the future. Sager also said that visa trading is practiced by paper companies established exclusively for this illegal trade and by persons whose government jobs allow them to either practice this trade or act as facilitators for others. Both groups must be punished, he said.
MP Humoud Al-Otaibi said yesterday he has filed a lawsuit against those who accused him of owning a company with thousands of expat workers on it. He categorically denied he has companies or had ever worked in any business.