Dhaka, Riyadh to bring stranded workers back to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Dhaka will from Sunday begin renewing visas for thousands of Bangladeshi workers stranded in their home country due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 26 September 2020

Dhaka, Riyadh to bring stranded workers back to Saudi Arabia

  • Kingdom extending visa renewal deadline for thousands of Bangladeshi workers stranded in their home country due to coronavirus pandemic

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Dhaka will from Sunday begin renewing visas for thousands of Bangladeshi workers stranded in their home country due to the coronavirus pandemic, following the Kingdom’s decision to extend the deadline by 24 days, officials told Arab News.

Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia’s national carriers, Biman and Saudia, will operate 16 flights to facilitate the process, with the flight frequency increasing, to get the stranded migrant workers back to the Kingdom.

According to government data, nearly 50,000 Bangladeshi workers returned from Saudi Arabia between last December and this March.

A majority were unable to return to work due to the coronavirus outbreak, which led to a lockdown in both countries and the suspension of flights.

“Not all the stranded migrants require a visa extension,” Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said on Saturday. “Those who came earlier at the outset of the pandemic and between Dec. 2019 to March 2020 will require it.” 

Saudi Arabia said it was extending the visa renewal deadline until Oct. 14, based on a request by Dhaka.

Saudia began operating two passenger and two chartered flights from Sept. 23, while Biman will start flying workers back to the Kingdom from Oct. 1.

“Initially, Biman was to operate four flights,” Mofidur Rahman, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), said. “But now, seeing the huge pressure of the stranded migrants, we are open and they can operate as many flights as they want.” 

He added that the CAAB was yet to receive permission for passenger flights from Saudi Arabia but hoped to get it as soon as possible.

“I have contacted the concerned Saudi officials regarding the passenger flight permission for Biman and expecting to get it shortly when the offices resume,” Patwary told Arab News.

However the measures have failed to allay the fears of migrant workers who want better coordination among airlines and health departments for Saudi-bound passengers.

“We need to collect the COVID-19 test reports within 48 hours of the flight,” 27-year-old Arman Hossain told Arab News. “But currently we are receiving tickets only a few hours before the flight, which puts us in extreme difficulties to manage the COVID-19 test reports.” 

Health officials in Dhaka urged airline authorities to issue the tickets in advance so that passengers could collect the test results on time.

“Sometimes passengers are coming to our center only 10 to 12 hours before a flight as they receive the tickets at the last moment,” Dr. Moinul Ahsan, civil surgeon and the person in charge of all government hospitals in Dhaka, told Arab News. “Practically, we need at least 24 hours to process a COVID-19 sample and generate the report.” 

As of Friday, Dhaka’s coronavirus sample collection center had provided 1,525 test results. 

“On Saturday, we have thus far collected 797 samples and the migrants are still coming to provide samples,” Ahsan said. “We are working round the clock, and none missed the flight due to not having the test report in hand.”

Shariful Hasan, from the Bangladeshi NGO Brac, suggested authorities provide accommodation for passengers flying to Saudi Arabia.

“Most of the passengers are coming from out of the capital, and they don’t have any residence in the city,” he said. “Since the passengers need to collect the COVID-19 test reports within 48 hours of their travel, the government should provide some accommodation facilities for them to ease the process. We hope all stranded migrants will be able to fly by Oct. 14.”

According to data from Bangladesh’s Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training, Saudi Arabia is the single largest source of foreign remittances, with more than $4 billion sent by nearly 2.2 million workers last year.


Culture documentation by Saudi ministry to help dispel misconceptions

Updated 22 October 2020

Culture documentation by Saudi ministry to help dispel misconceptions

  • Dia hopes the documenting process will be done professionally and without bias

JEDDAH: Saudi artists welcomed the Ministry of Culture’s first-of-its-kind 16/13 initiative, documenting the diversity of Saudi culture and art through a visual library.
The library will display 16 aspects of culture and heritage through photography and videography that represent the 13 regions of the Kingdom.
Researchers will go around Saudi Arabia to meet creatives, and study their work, for inclusion in the initiative.
“This is an important step for the Kingdom, and it’s a global one to document visual art, whether works of art or cinema,” Dia Aziz Dia, Saudi artist and sculptor, told Arab News.
He added: “It’s important because this creates a database and can be used as a reference to study and compare paintings, photography, sculpting and various types of art, how they differ from one region to the next.”
It could also let government bodies discover art worthy of being put into museums for display, said Dia.
“It’s a good way to document history as well, and to study works of art and the standards of art here,” he said. “It’s on a global level and it’s done everywhere in the world, from England to the US.”
Dia hopes the documenting process will be done professionally and without bias.
He also said it was not easy to compile these works. “It’s an elaborate process to be able to get hold of all the works across the Kingdom. It’s an operation that requires organization, extensive studying and the cooperation of the Society of Culture and Arts and artists as well.”
Saad Tahaitah, documentary filmmaker and photographer, told Arab News that the initiative was promising. He was exposed to it through Saudi photographer Nawaf Al-Shehri, who has been traveling to help with the documentation process.
“The ministry’s been doing an incredible job; they’re (Nawaf and his team) going around the Kingdom and filming content for an actual library,” he said.
Tahaitah has worked on numerous short films on his own to depict the culture and heritage of Asir region, in the southwest of the country. He said he would not trade it for any other place and wished only to film in his hometown.
“I got into documentaries because I wanted honest storytelling. I didn’t want to write a script and hire actors, although that works for some,” he said. “The way I’ve been doing film is to let the person I’m filming go about their day and I let my camera roll.”
Tahaitah started documenting Asir because he wanted to dispel the misconceptions about it, and the stereotypes created through media like “Tash Ma Tash,” the famous Saudi comedy show.
“Asir is full of natural beauty and scenery to capture. It’s diverse in its sights and the people who live in it. Every once in a while, I realize there’s a thing I never noticed before and I film it, and I’ve lived here all my life. The way of life here, simply, can inspire you,” he said.
He added: “We don’t have one particular dance or only sit and dine in a huddle. In a way, I just wanted to showcase the reality of Asir because I love it.”
He said that this initiative could correct inaccuracies shared about certain areas in the Kingdom.