The Kingdom is witnessing the emergence of a thriving market of stolen iqamas being sold after forgery or the gangs resorting to extortion from the original iqama holder, but the authorities have stepped in with combative measures to nip this illegal activity in the bud.
As part of the measures to curb this menace, the government has waived the fine imposed on expats for stolen residency permits and facilitating their getting a new one from the Passport Office. There is, of course, a rider that the residency permit is not lost because of the holder’s negligence and that the theft is reported within 24 hours.
If neither condition is met, a fine of SR1,000 will have to be paid for first time loss or theft, SR2,000 and SR3,000 for second and third instances respectively.
The residency permits trade is believed to be run by African expats living in Jeddah. They ask the victims to pay for the iqama based on the holder’s nationality, while some iqamas are forged and sold to others or used for other purposes.
The focal point for the residency permits business is “Somali Souq” in downtown Jeddah, where most stolen or lost iqamas can be traced. Most expats who have lost or had their residency permits stolen land up in this market to get their papers back. Obviously, they don’t inform the police for fear of trouble.
A police official denied the presence of such organized gangs, but he advised all expats who have had their iqamas stolen to inform the police instead of going directly to deal with the thieves.
Jeddah Police’s spokesman, Atti Al-Qurashi, told Arab News that the cooperation of expatriates would help in nabbing these gangs. “There are no permanent locations for these gangs, but if the expats cooperate with us, we will surely catch them,” he said, adding that police carry out regular patrols looking for Iqama thieves.
An Egyptian expat, Abdullah Ahmed, told Arab News: “Two Africans contacted me and demanded SR1,000 to get my iqama back. But I discovered that my iqama had been found by another African expat,” he said.
Idris said he did not bother to inform the police because he did not care if the thieves were caught or not. “The important thing is that I got my iqama back and my presence in the country is legal again,” he said.
However, the police’s raids in “Somali Souq” played a big role in curbing their activities with the arrest of hundreds of African gangs that steal iqamas or official papers in the last few years, local newspapers said.
Salem Al-Sharaabi, a Yemeni expat, said: “I am sure that Jeddah police know exactly where these thieves are operating from. The thieves not only run their business from their homes, but they also have offices where they receive people who had lost their iqamas,” he said.
Al-Sharaabi said when he lost his wallet containing his iqama and driving license, he immediately reported the case to the police, but was surprised when police told him to go to the downtown area of Bab Sharif to look for his lost papers there. “I took the advice of the police and I did find my iqama where I was told it could be found,” he said.
The iqama is a very important document for expatriates living in the Kingdom, and they are ready to pay any amount to get it back if it is lost or stolen, without going to the police since they believe they will have to pay fine for stolen Iqama.
The Ministry of Interior announced that if iqama is stolen or lost, it should be reported within 24 hours at a police station with a letter from the sponsor stating the circumstances under which it was lost and the place of loss to avoid fine.
A passport office representative told Arab News that according to the ministry and government law, if anyone is robbed of his iqama, especially in Makkah and Madinah, or on a bus, he can get replacement without fine, but he has to prove the theft.
Mohammed Suliman, a building security man, said his iqama was stolen while he was drinking water from a cooler and he reported the matter to the police the same day. He got his replacement iqama immediately without paying any fine.