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Saudi Arabia

Stranded Sri Lankan expats hope for a miracle

With eight days to go for the expiration of the Nov. 3 amnesty deadline, undocumented Sri Lankan expatriate workers in Jeddah are in a state of panic. Not only are they racing against time, but are also out of money. As a result, many of them are forced to beg on the streets for survival.
Living in deplorable conditions under the Sharafiya bridge and near the deportation center in south Jeddah, they continue to do the rounds of the center seeking “clearance” to leave the Kingdom.
Arab News spent some time with them amid the filth and stench of rubbish and human waste.
Dressed in jeans with travel documents in hand, the Sri Lankans have become a common sight at traffic signals in Sharafiya and other places. They have been stranded for months now and since there are no means of sustenance in this port city, begging is the only recourse left for them. Some of them have been languishing under the bridge for over six months prior to the announcement of the grace period. Most of them wish to be arrested and imprisoned so they would be guaranteed shelter and a decent meal.
“I am not a beggar nor do I need any charity, but it has been over five months now and I am desperate to leave the Kingdom,” said Huwan, a Sri Lankan national. “I am ashamed of begging in the streets and at traffic signals but I have no option.”
“I don’t know why I am unable to obtain the exit clearance for so long,” said Abdul Monam.
Johan said: “I have purchased air tickets twice and lost the money. Now I have nothing with me and I am only hoping that some miracle happens before Nov. 3.”
These workers had arrived in different parts of the Kingdom. But they had run away from their sponsors for various reasons and were doing menial jobs to survive or to clear debts they had incurred while obtaining visas to Saudi Arabia.
They have no access to basic sanitation. They use the toilets in nearby mosques during prayer times and to fill containers for drinking water. Living outdoors, they are vulnerable to disease from mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water left behind by street car washers.
Earlier there were about 600 Sri Lankan workers in the makeshift camps waiting to be arrested and deported by the Passport Department. Although the figure is lower now, they still constitute the single largest block of illegal expatriates living in pathetic conditions under the Sharafiya bridge.

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