M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News Staff
Published — Tuesday 8 April 2003
Last Update 8 April 2003 3:00 am
RIYADH, 8 April 2003 — Major Asian labor exporting countries including the Philippines and Indonesia have resumed deployment of workers to Saudi Arabia except in war-affected areas near the borders of Iraq.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh said they never restricted workers wishing to travel to the Kingdom or any other Gulf states for employment.
The Philippines has now lifted travel restrictions imposed before the war on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), according to the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). At the same time, the POEA has allowed OFWs currently on vacation in the Philippines to return to work if they have left dependents in Saudi Arabia.
“But we will not allow those working or residing near the Iraqi border to depart even if their exit/re-entry visas are expiring,” said the POEA. It added, however, that Manila has allowed the departure of OFWs whose work is considered vital. The POEA temporarily suspended the deployment of OFWs to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kuwait and Iraq in the middle of March in view of the Iraq war.
Manzar Hafeez Mian, welfare counselor at the Pakistani Embassy, said that “Pakistan never imposed a ban on its workers traveling to Saudi Arabia on employment visas before or during the war.” The Pakistani diplomat said the Kingdom was home to over 900,000 Pakistani nationals.
The number of Pakistani workers in the Kingdom and other Gulf countries has been growing during the last five years, with the number increasing by 41 percent over two years and new arrivals reported up from 27,567 in 1999 to 67,425 in 2000.
Senior Indian Embassy official Zikrur Rahman said “New Delhi never imposed restrictions on the movement of its workers, especially those wishing to travel to the Kingdom.” Some Indian workers — either about to take up employment in Saudi Arabia or vacationing in India — independently decided to postpone their departures because of the continuing war.
More than 1.5 million Indian expatriates live and work in Saudi Arabia. The Indian community has grown rapidly during the last decade, becoming not only the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom, but also the largest expatriate community in any single country in the world. Indians, who constitute nearly 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s expatriate population, have been remitting an estimated $4.5 billion to India annually.
The Indonesian Embassy said Jakarta would resume deployment of workers from April 15. Indonesia, which has made a one-month training program mandatory for every housemaid before deployment, has also imposed an additional $200 recruitment fee on its workers.
According to a report, more than 45,000 workers including 20,000 maids are awaiting the permission of the Indonesian government to fly to the Kingdom.
Sri Lanka and Nepal, which supply substantial numbers of workers to the Kingdom, also slowed the deployment of their workers during the war, although there have been no official instructions to that effect. Some workers had decided to wait for the end of the war, a Riyadh-based recruiting agent said.