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MPs press for quick, massive reduction in expat numbers

MP Osama Al-Shaheen

By B Izzak and A Saleh

KUWAIT: Lawmakers are pressing the government for a definitive plan to substantially reduce the number of expatriates within one to two years, rapporteur of the National Assembly’s human resources development panel said yesterday. MP Osama Al-Shaheen however said the government has so far refused to commit to such a plan and is seeking a loose “framework” that leaves details and figures to the government.

Expats at present form 70 percent of the population with 3.35 million residents, while Kuwaitis form just 30 percent with 1.45 million, according to official statistics. Shaheen said the prime minister has pointed out that the ideal situation is by reversing the percentage to 70 percent citizens and 30 percent expats, while the government in studies talks about a 60-40 ratio in favor of Kuwaitis.

But the reality is far from the two proposals, said Shaheen, adding that the government opinion on this issue must be united before even debating the required plan. Reducing expats to just 30 percent of the population means making them around 700,000, which is impossible by all counts simply because the number of domestic helpers currently stands at 750,000.

Shaheen said what is important now is “to begin in a real and effective way”, which has not happened until now, adding that the number of illegals who left voluntarily was only 29,000 out of 150,000, “so what can be done with those living legally in the country?” Shaheen said the Assembly panel has given the government ample time to study proposals submitted by lawmakers, adding that MPs are hoping for a resolution to this issue within a year or two at most. But he acknowledged that the problem, which has been accumulating for the past 50 years, requires a longer time to resolve.

Head of the panel MP Khalil Al-Saleh said in press statements yesterday that Kuwait can reduce the number of expats by one million within three months after resuming commercial flights. He said this number includes around 168,000 illegals – 500,000 “roaming workers” who have no fixed jobs, in addition to expats who would be laid off from government jobs.

MP Al-Humaidi Al-Subaei said yesterday that the increasing number of violations against marginal expat workers and trafficking in persons are the main reasons for asking the minister of social affairs to prepare a report on measures taken against violators. He said the request, which was approved by the Assembly, calls on the minister to submit the report within just one month and should include names of those involved.

In a related development, the issue of the Bangladeshi MP detained in Kuwait on human trafficking and money laundering charges appears to be snowballing to include several leading officials and lawmakers. Footage posted on social media yesterday showed the Bangladeshi lawmaker speaking in the Bangladeshi parliament and claiming that he was making some KD 100,000 daily in Kuwait  and that he was spending a lot on poor people and charities in his country. Local press said leading figures from the government have been added to his list of accomplices, in addition to at least two current Kuwaiti MPs and an ex-MP.

Meanwhile, the manpower authority yesterday explained in a press release that emergency teams were dispatched to the scene of a protest in Mahboula last week and found over 148 workers demonstrating because they had not received salaries for March, April and May. The employer was summoned, who said his contract with the government had expired on Jan 22 and his contract with the foreign partner had expired on Jan 29.

The employer added that on June 25, he had submitted a portfolio of documents indicating the contract’s expiry and an affidavit from the foreign partner bearing responsibility for the workers’ financial, administrative and legal liabilities and rights. The authority added that on receiving this portfolio from the company, the matter was referred to Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of State for Economic Affairs Mariam Al-Aqeel on June 26.

Aqeel was asked her to contact the ministers of oil and electricity and water to take proper measures and withhold the company’s cash deposit and any due payments, as well as administratively suspend dealing with the company until the workers’ dues are paid. The authority said despite notifying the workers of the measures taken so far, they have continued their agitation.

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