2,000 expats miss out on amnesty

At least 2,000 migrant workers living illegally in Bahrain are not covered under an amnesty that allows them to return home without penalties.These Bangladeshi men either have pending court cases, no legal documents, overstayed their visit visas, entered the country during transit or used forged documents to travel.

When the six-month general amnesty was launched on July 1, it was estimated there were around 60,000 illegal residents in Bahrain.

However, it does not cover those who have court cases against them – including travel bans for outstanding debts – or foreigners who overstayed visit visas.

Bangladeshi Ambassador and retired Major General K M Mominur Rahman said this group of people were innocent “victims of circumstance”.

“These men, falling under these five categories, are innocent because they are victims of circumstance and did not become illegal owing to their fault,” Maj Gen Rahman told the GDN.

“We urge the government to consider including these categories also in the amnesty so that together we achieve the purpose of the initiative and start fresh with a labour market free of irregularities in 2016.”

He warned that these cases could become a financial burden on the government if left unaddressed.

“I am ready to support my community and the Bahraini government in this attempt to clean up the irregularities, especially the free visas, which is unique to the Bangladeshi community,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it is the Bangladeshi [recruiting agents] back home and a few Bahrainis who benefit from this scheme, while the victims are the poor workers who sell everything they have and come here with dreams and hopes.

“If we don’t address these categories, we will end up with more illegal workers who will be a financial and administrative burden on the government.”

The number of illegal workers that fall in this group could be more than 2,000, according to Bangladesh Embassy labour counsellor Mohidul Islam.

“The word has spread that such cases can’t avail of amnesty benefits and people don’t come to us, so the number could be more than what we see,” he told the GDN.

“The main category among these five is those charged for working outside their legal sponsor with more than 1, 000 people.

“They have a valid visa, but were caught working outside and thus have a court case against them.

“The next category with around 200 workers are those who entered Bahrain during transit and didn’t resume their travel, which was prior to 2007 and the establishment of LMRA.

“Another group are long-term residents, who have no legal documents like CPR or passport and do not know who their sponsors are.

“Then we have a few, who were ignorant and overstayed their visit visas, mostly trapped by agents and it’s sad that these men don’t even know the difference between a visit and a work visa.

“And finally we have those who entered Bahrain by forging their passports at a time when Bangladeshi passports were handwritten.

“All these total to around 2,000 plus and fall under offences categorised as illegal residency and are not under the amnesty.

“We have raised these concerns with the authorities and we hope it will be addressed.”

Mr Islam said his 20,000-member community benefited the most from the amnesty.

“We have identified around 50,000 illegal residents and since the start of the amnesty around 20,000 have taken advantage of the amnesty, of which 18,000 got their stay regularised,” he added.

“While around 2,000 opted to go back home – we still have 30,000 left whom we are waiting for.”

According to latest LMRA statistics released earlier this month, 18,595 illegal residents secured legitimate employment in the first five months of the amnesty.

Another 5,074 left the country during the same period, meaning a total of 23,669 people have so far benefited from the scheme.