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MoI mulls grace period for violators: Official – Union leader questions ‘military type’ crackdown

KUWAIT: A senior Interior Ministry official announced that the government was considering granting a grace period to allow residency violators to leave the country, the news coming even as a Kuwaiti unionist questioned whether decisions to prosecute expatriates found in violation went through the right political channels. Undersecretary Assistant for Citizenship, Passports and Immigration Affairs, Major General Sheikh Faisal Al-Nawaf Al-Sabah, said that the grace period being discussed “would include terms and conditions that were not included in previous grace periods, so that people could derive maximum benefit.” Maj Gen Al-Sabah spoke to Al-Rai during a crackdown on residency violators in Jleeb Al- Shuyiukh Tuesday night, and said the campaigns to track down residency permit violators and those violating labor regulations or committing serious traffic violations “will continue as long as there are violators in the country.”

No targeted raids
He further refuted speculations that people of certain nationalities were being singled out for deportation, insisting that any violator was being subjected to deportation “even if they were American citizens.” Meanwhile, a senior Kuwait Trade Union Federation official criticized what he described as ‘issuance of military-type decisions’ by traffic officials against expatriates with a rather peculiar swiftness and success.

“Has any of the decisions made by Interior Ministry officials gone through the correct political channels, or are these personal decisions and a tool by which an official can overpower vulnerable people whenever he desires?” head of the expatriate labor forces office in the KTUF, Abdurrahman Al-Ghanim, said. Al-Ghanim made his statement in response to recent reports which talked about decisions to lay down a deadline for the expats to pay traffic fines or face travel bans. “Such a step is discriminatory as it lacks basic principles of equality,” he said, before demanding that the officials stop taking decisions “that make expatriates feel oppressed in the country that embraced them and gave them a lot while they have been dedicated to it in return.” Furthermore, Al-Ghanim condemned deporting expatriates without giving them an opportunity to legalize their status. “The majority of expatriates in violation of residency laws are victims of sponsors’ abuse who demand huge amounts of money unlawfully to renew their visas,” he explained.

He further criticized Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Thekra Al-Rashidi for taking ‘sole decisions’ against workers “while ignoring visa traffickers and people with influence who use fake companies to practice illegal visa trade”. “The solution does not lie in deporting expatriates, taking pictures of them as if they were criminals or holding them responsible for problems of the disorganized labor market and lack of security,” he said. “Instead, these will hurt Kuwait’s image in countries whose nationals Kuwait is deporting.” Al-Ghanim also mentioned reports about India inquiring with the Kuwaiti ambassador about the deportation procedures, including incidents in which some Indian nationals were not allowed to even collect their belongings before leaving. “This proves our predictions that the current steps will go down as a dark chapter in the history of Kuwait’s relationship with other countries,” he said, while also expressing “shame that a Kuwaiti envoy had to go through such a situation.”

Al-Ghanim concluded by reiterating his demand for the cancelation of the sponsorship system, which he said, was hindering the state’s plans to attract foreign investors “who are unlikely to put their fate and the fate of millions of workers they bring in to build a project in Kuwait in the hands of a single Kuwaiti sponsor.” This comes while a report suggested that detention cells in the Immigration General Department, the Deportation Jail and a number of police stations have become overcrowded with people detained in recent crackdowns pending deportation. According to a security source with knowledge of the case, many of the detainees were being exposed to unhealthy circumstances in such detention centers due to overcrowding “and the fact that some of the detainees were afflicted with contagious disease.”

The source who spoke to Al-Qabas on the condition of anonymity said that coordination is ongoing to open an 800 people capacity shelter to house the detainees. In this regard, Maj Gen Al-Sabah told Al-Rai that coordination mechanism was currently in place with an aviation company in order to help in transporting the deportees, a process that is currently being carried out only through the Kuwait Airways. He further clarified that he gave orders to allow detainees to “obtain an official authorization to acquire their dues.” Kuwait is home to 2.6 million expatriates who form 68 percent of the country’s 3.8 million population. Last March, minister Al-Rashidi announced a plan to deport 100,000 foreigners every year, as part of a strategy to cut the Gulf state’s expatriate community by one million in ten years.

Criticism sparked by the lack of details about the proposed plan prompted the minister to later clarify that the plan targets illegal residents who comprise up to 93,000 people as of official statistics released last year. Crackdowns on illegal residents resulted in hundreds of arrests in the past two months, while the Interior Minister deported hundreds others for serious traffic violations detected during simultaneous campaigns. —Al-Rai & Al-Qabas

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This article was published on 06/06/2013