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Kuwait steps up pressure on visa traders amid coronavirus

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The government has stepped up measures to crackdown on visa traders, already arresting two major traders and sending them to court while other agencies have launched search campaigns to improve living conditions of low-paid expat workers.

Head of the Public Manpower Authority Ahmad Al-Mousa said yesterday that a high-level government committee headed by Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh has been assigned to combat visa traders, especially those who establish paper companies and use them to recruit expat workers against expensive fees.

The committee has already identified two key visa traders and sent them to court. The first one, with more than 1,300 workers under his sponsorship is in detention along with his Egyptian partners awaiting trial. The committee identified another trader after finding that 577 workers have been illegally sponsored by them. Saleh ordered authorities to use security deposits made by the company for pay for the air tickets of the workers.

Mousa said that authorities will likely publish the names of people and companies found involved in trafficking in persons only after they are convicted by court. Visa traders are blamed for recruiting hundreds of thousands of unskilled expat laborers who are battling dire living conditions with large numbers crammed in one room that has become very unhealthy at the time of coronavirus.

The campaign coincides with a steep rise in the number of coronavirus cases among expat workers, who now make up more than two third of the 1,405 cases reported by Kuwait, which forced authorities to lockdown Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and Mahboola, home to more than half a million expats.

The manpower authority has conducted search campaigns on workers housing in several areas to ensure that healthy conditions are strictly implemented to prevent the spread of the virus and to apply the law. According to the law, a maximum of four workers can stay at a room of at least 16 square meters in area. In practice many more are forced by their employers to stay in much smaller rooms.

In the meantime, Kuwait’s National Human Rights Commission called in a statement to activate accountability and supremacy of the law in dealing with trafficking in persons crimes which have come under the spotlight because of the coronavirus.

The statement called on authorities to treat all expatriates on humanitarian basis and preserve their dignity until conditions become appropriate for them to go back to their home countries. Thousands of expat workers who have been living illegally in the country have benefited from a one-month amnesty offered by the interior ministry under which workers can depart to their country without paying fines or the air fare.

Meanwhile, the ministry of health reported 119 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 1,524. Of the new cases, 75 are for Indians, 12 Bangladeshis, 11 Egyptians, seven for Kuwaitis and the rest for different nationalities. Thirty-two cases are at the intensive care unit. The ministry also reported 19 new recoveries raising the number of recoveries to 225 cases.

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