For Nisar Ahmad (name changed), an electrician from Pakistan, it was the opportunity of a lifetime when he got a call for job in Muscat, a few months back. He was promised a promising salary, free accommodation, food, and travelling allowance. Finally his efforts seemed to be paying back. But when he arrived his eyes were shocked open to a strikingly different reality. There was no such job as promised. Even the company, which offered him the job didn't exist.
Left in the middle of nowhere, he decided to stay on and do odd jobs for survival. That seemed the only solution for him, having taken a debt of Rs. 2 lakh to pay for the 'job' that was never given to him. What followed was a life of struggle until one day he was deported. There are many like Nisar from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, who overstay in Oman or do not possess valid visas/passports, thereby inviting action against them.
The Sultanate is home to nearly one million expatriates from the Indian sub-continent. Hundreds of people come every month in search of their bread and butter, often on false promises given by fraudulent agents in Indian cities who lure them with bright prospects and then leave them in the lurch, sources say. However, most of these victims, instead of immediately approaching the authorities in Oman or their country's embassy for help, choose to stay on illegally until one day they are nabbed.
Officials at the Indian Embassy declined to comment on the issue. However, according to a very active Indian social worker in Oman, P. M. Jabir, who has spent decades sorting out different types of conflicts faced by Indian workers in Oman, "Most of the people in trouble are labourers who are prone to be duped easily. When they arrive, they get a dose of reality, much to their surprise. Often they settle down with whatever is offered to them, even if it is not their field, but sometimes they decide to run away," said Jabir, who is Community Welfare Secretary of the Indian Social Club in Oman.
Jabir, however, adds that workers, by running away, only made matters worse for themselves, earning a label of absconders and making themselves liable to punishment. "Omani law and order is very strict and you can't escape from it for long. Sooner or later you are going to be nabbed, and rightly so."
An official from the Embassy of Bangladesh was of the opinion that prosecution of offenders should be effectively carried out by both, the host country and the country of origin of the employee. He felt, along with the workers, a check should also be kept on the agents involved in offering fake visas who create problems for the poor expatriates.
The official further said, in case of any kind of fraud or other untoward situation, the worker must immediately register his complaint with the labour court. Running away doesn't solve the problem, it only compounds it. "The authorities don't want to keep them confined. There are protocols involved, plus the arrangement of funds for deportation (which in most cases the absconders do not have) makes the entire repatriating process cumbersome," the official explained.
Left in a lurch
According to Shahid Javed, Community Welfare Attache, Embassy of Pakistan, there are some fraudulent agents in every country who provide fake visas to unsuspecting victims who hope to make a good earning abroad. Visas are usually provided by the host country for expansion/diversification of business but there is possibility of this facility being misused.
"The authorities have parameters of checking the business before granting the license for hiring manpower, but some agencies make temporary arrangements to meet the criteria. It is good that the authorities are carrying out inspections and, I hope, the situation is changing for the better," said Javed stressing that random and regular checks should be implemented, especially on small and medium businesses.
Abdussalam Nagi, a senior Pakistani expatriate living in Muscat for more than 35 years, was of the opinion that there used to be a mutual agreement, wherein workers have a choice to work anywhere, after getting the visa, and in return were charged a fixed amount on a monthly basis. "This is what they call Free Visa," he said, however, adding that the authorities on both sides should keep a tab on illegal agents who misuse this facility and cheat people. In most cases, there are no formal job agreements, which makes the case of workers even weaker, he pointed out, adding that there have been cases wherein expatriates have willingly taken risks to get jobs after being fully aware of the consequences.
Says Nagi, "under the law in most countries, it is unlawful to charge an employee for a work visa. But, labourers (who are not aware of this) are often compelled to pay for it. "If anyone reports to the labour court about being charged for a visa, they could surely get justice, but no one does that. In fact, they willingly pay for it as they do not want to lose the job."
In the middle of nowhere
According to a section of expatriates, there are many people (who seemingly faced similar situations) and are seen moving around as vagabonds for years, doing odd jobs for survival. Many of these could be suffering severe ailments and neither have access to medical help nor can they think about going back home since they do not possess any personal documents (passports/visas).
One such case is that of a senior Indian expatriate for whom the Indian Social Club is pleading for his deportation on humanitarian grounds. "We have 4 to5 such cases of absconders every week, who wish to go back to their homes but cannot in the absence of travel documents and funds. We plead their case with the authorities and try to help them out with funds," said Jabir.
Shahid Javed also pointed out, "There are instances when employers have not paid salaries to their workers for long periods of time, compelling them to consider absconding. Sometimes they are threatened of being falsely implicated in theft cases, if they rebel against the employer."
Employers often take custody of workers' resident cards and passports to secure them on many counts, including the fact that labourers do not have proper dwelling places and their personal documents can get lost/misplaced or damaged. Javed, however, pointed out that, in case of absconders, sponsors often deny having possession of these important documents for various reasons. This makes the deportation process complex, he asserted.
According to Jabir, anyone who is cheated should approach his country's embassy in Oman, which would file a case on his behalf in the labor court and justice would be meted out effectively. "Omani labour laws are very straight, transparent, and pro-worker, but the problem is nobody approaches them when they should," he said adding that prospective employees for any country must make inquiries from people already living in that country (friends/relatives) before deciding to travel for the job.
Dos and Don't s
Don't pay for work visas or favours
Make inquiries about organizations, before arrival
Register yourself with your country's mission
Do not part with labour card/personal documents
Report conflicts to your embassy/labour court
Do not run away or evade authorities
In case the illegal worker doesn't have any travel documents, the concerned embassy issues a temporary travel permit (Emergency Certificate), which is for one time use only.
In case of shortage or unavailability of funds, the concerned embassy might try to create provisions, or raise funds through donations and contributions from resident expatriates and social clubs.
|Nasser Al Riyami, Asst. Attorney General of Oman|
|We have stringent laws to curb malpractices|
"There are many instances of illegal migrants and as well as workers in Oman and other GCC nations, lured to the countries due to the flourishing economy, ample work opportunities and incomes. But they don't realise the hazards of entering or working in the country illegally. They are extremely vulnerable to be exploited, harassed and, sometimes, abused. If they get into any ugly situation there is no respite for such people then, because they are not registered in official records, and also they themselves refrain from contacting the government agencies owing to the fear of punishment. Thus their sufferings become endless. The Ministry of Manpower and ROP are doing a very good job nabbing the illegal people. It is not only for protecting the state but the workers themselves as well.
"Availability of such illegal workforce combined with greed also gives rise to spurious agencies which hire them and exploit them in the worst form. They don't have any official job contracts and, in many cases, have to work for a marginal wage of what they were actually promised. The government should also capture and punish such local agents, involved in the visa business. There are stringent labour laws to curb such activities. Also the anti-human trafficking law was implemented in 2008 to capture and try such people. Lack of awareness is also to a great extent responsible for this vicious circle. Many locals who have indulged in such practices do not realise the hazardous consequences of their illegal acts and they, too, need to be sensitised about the same."