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Abandoned in Saudi Desert Camps due to Kingdom’s economic slump, Migrant workers won’t Leave without Pay

As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests

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A Syrian refugee family walks towards the new Syrian camp of Azraq, . Image source: VOA

igrant construction workers say they will not accept a government offer of free flights home unless they receive months of unpaid wages.

The plight of the workers, stranded for months in crowded dormitories at labor camps with little money and limited access to food, water or medical care, has alarmed their home countries and drawn unwelcome attention to the conditions of some of the 10 million foreign workers on whom the Saudi economy depends.

The government says it is trying to resolve the situation by giving the workers- who normally need their employers’ permission to leave the country – the right to go home and free transport back. It is also granting them special permission to stay while they look for other jobs.

But workers say they fear that if they leave they will end up with nothing at all.

“We will wait here – one year, two years. We will wait for our money. Then we will go back,” said Sardar Naseer, 35, a Pakistani welder at the Qadisiya Labor Camp, which houses around 2,000 workers from construction conglomerate Saudi Oger.

Naseer says he is owed 22,000 riyals ($5,900) after receiving no wages for eight months. Workers at the camp, about 20 km (13 miles) from the center of Riyadh, said they had stopped work about four months ago and none had been paid since January.

Oger, the family firm of billionaire former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The Hariri family did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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In July, Oger stopped providing food, electricity, maintenance and medical services at several of its camps including Qadisiyah, prompting the Saudi Labor Ministry to take over the provision of basic services there, men at the camp said.

They sleep six to eight to a tiny room, with stray cats and cockroaches lingering on torn bedsheets. They sit on the floor to eat food rations provided by the Labor Ministry or their embassies.

A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA
A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA

There is no regular supply of clean drinking water – a filter on a public water fountain meant to be changed daily has not been serviced in a year – so they are forced to buy bottled water with their own money.

Saudi Oger, which employs some 30,000 workers, has built mega-projects including Riyadh’s palatial 500-room Ritz Carlton hotel and all-female Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University.

It is one of Saudi Arabia’s two most prominent construction companies, along with the Saudi Binladin Group. Both have faced financial difficulties as the world’s biggest oil exporter has suffered from the fall in the price of crude.

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Construction projects have been halted or slowed and revenue has fallen. As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests.

Countries including India, Pakistan, and the Philippines have sent senior officials to Riyadh to press authorities to assist their workers. Indian officials said this month that more than 6,200 former Indian employees of Oger were stranded in Saudi camps after being laid off and owed wages.

“Good Image”

Two weeks ago, after Indian authorities raised their concerns, King Salman set aside 100 million riyals of government money to help the stranded workers, mostly from Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Saudi Labor Minister Mufrej al-Haqbani told Reuters on Wednesday that several distressed local firms, including Saudi Binladin Group, had now started paying overdue wages. Binladin executives promised him that payments would be completed by September, he said.

Oger is the only company still broadly withholding payments, and the Labor Ministry will press foreigners’ wage claims through the kingdom’s labor dispute system, Haqbani said, without specifying when claims might be resolved.

“Saudi Oger – now we’ll take it to the courts. Now we are responsible for that. We’ve hired lawyers,” he said. “As the ministry, we will go through the labor dispute courts to go after Saudi Oger and to collect the claims.”

He also said the troubles at Oger were not a sign of problems with Saudi Arabia’s overall employment of foreign workers, most of whom were choosing to remain in the country.

“This is a small segment…of the labor market. We have more than 10 million expats working happily here in the country. When a company like Saudi Oger fails to comply with the rules, this will never destroy the good image of our labor market.”

Philippines Secretary of Labor Silvestre Bello, who visited Riyadh for talks with Haqbani this week, said that with the assistance of Saudi authorities, about 1,000 Filipino workers could be sent home by mid-September.

At the camp, Mohammed Niaz, 42, said his two daughters back in Pakistan had stopped attending school because he could no longer send money home for fees.

“I’m wasting my time. I want to go to Pakistan,” he said.

But he added that he refused to leave Saudi Arabia without the 13,000 riyals which Oger owed him. “My family has no money. My daughters are out of school. How can I go to Pakistan?” (VOA)

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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers; 7 more bans yet to be addressed for Saudi women

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A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2013. VOA

Oct 2, 2017: The Sharia-ruled monarchy of the Middle-East, Saudi Arabia decided to lift the ban on women drivers on September 26, much to the elation of Women’s Rights Activists throughout the world. King Salman issued a royal decree on Tuesday granting Saudi women the right to drive thereby ending the kingdom’s notorious reputation of being the only country that prohibits women from driving. The law will come into effect on June 24, 2018.

While the pronouncement signifies a “positive step” towards women-empowerment, the conclusion of whether such laws can be turned into practice in a patriarchal society like Saudi Arabia can be drawn only with the unfolding of time.

Apart from relaxing the ban on women drivers, the Gulf Kingdom also terminated a series of interdicts forced upon the women. A handful of loosened bans included that women will no longer require approval from their guardian to work.

Another significant statute blessed upon women the freedom to enter the sports stadiums albeit exclusively for the Saudi National Day besides the compulsory edict of being seated only in a family section far away from single men.

The Government has also passed laws allowing girls in public schools to play sports and have access to physical education.

saudi women
UN Women political cartoon. Wikimedia

While everyone is busy celebrating women drivers in Saudi Arabia, there is still a myriad of bans inflicted on women. These are:

1. Following the divorce, Saudi women are permitted to keep their children with them only till they reach the age limit of 7years (for girls) and 9years (for boys).

2. Saudi women cannot marry and divorce without the due consent of their male guardian. The male head dominates everything in a Saudi family.

3. The women of Saudi Arabia do not have the permission to get a passport without the prior assent of their male guardian.

Also Read: A step forward: Saudi Women take up active roles in an All female Emergency Call Centre 

4. The approval of the male guardian is also required during any medical emergency. Women cannot take a voluntary decision regarding issues that concern the question of their life and death!

5. Women do not possess the right to socialize with men except for immediate family members. Consequently, all the restaurants and places of public entertainment in Saudi Arabia maintain two sections, one for the men where women cannot enter and the other for families.

6. Under Sharia laws, daughters can inherit property but only half of what is received by their male counterparts.

7. Saudi women cannot even start a work unless two male members testify about her character in a law court before she can be granted a loan or a license.

Prepared by Mohima Haque of Newsgram. Twitter @mohimahaque26

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10 Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi, Victim Of Religious Persecution

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Raif Badawi
Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

Saudi Arabia, September 22, 2017: A Saudi writer, atheist, activist and the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website Raif Badawi, who has been a prey to brutal punishment of Saudi Arabia law, reveals his agony in a book “1000 Lashes, Because I Say What I Think”.

Badawi, through his book expressed one’s life in the autocratic Islamic state under ‘Sharia’, insights about freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, human and civil rights and tolerance.

Raif Badawi
People from Oslo protesting to Free Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

It was in 2012 when Badawi was taken into imprisonment in Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to 10 years torture with 1000 lashes. The reason stated for his imprisonment was his act of showing disrespect towards Islam and produced before the court charges including apostasy.

His punishment was partly enforced due to ‘parental disobedience’ when the debate over freedom of speech and Islam continued to rage. The punishment was in context to the disobedience shown towards one’s father, as follows in Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, Badawi’s father also renounced his son on television.

There are facts that left Raif Badawi to live a life of torture and trauma and you should know these.

  1. Raif Badawi had to face 50 lashes in his first session in front of the crowd gathering near the mosque in Jeddah on January 9, 2015.
  2. After his first session, the medical committee advised not to flog Raid Badawi as his wound had not healed sufficiently, because of high blood pressure. Whereas, another prison doctor objected to that and said that he is fine to take more lashes.
  3. Nevertheless, the flogs were not carried out due to some unknown reason.
  4. He was sentenced with seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes, but was extended to 10 years and 1000 lashes later.
  5. He was arrested against his rights to freedom of speech, expression, association and assembly. He was being suppressed with his rights to be democratic.
  6. The case was being dropped twice. The district court passed on the case to high court, saying “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy.” Also, the higher court refused to hear the case and referred it to the lower court.
  7. His family said that they have learned of judicial attempts to have Badawi retried for apostasy and that it may end up beheading his head for renouncing his religion. Though the human rights are not sure of the claim.
  8. Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar was forced to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Canada along with her children after she received anonymous threats.
  9. Badawi expressed his sentiment towards living in a democratic society through his website Free Saudi Liberals until it was shut down by the Saudi authorities. He writes in one of his posts, “You have the right to express and think whatever you want as you have the right to declare what you think about it, it is your right to believe or think, have the right to love and to hate, from your right to be a liberal or Islamist.”
  10. There have been several international awards accorded to Badawi. He was a nominee for 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and for Human Rights and Democracy he was also awarded the Courage award in 2015 in Geneva Summit.

Many people around the world are showing their support to Raif Badawi through different campaigns and protest. The Canadian government also expressed him gratitude with their concern towards his wife and children.

ALSO READ: 2,384 Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Jailed for Minor and Major Offenses

It was not just Badawi, who was victimized for raising his voice. His lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, in July 2014 was also sentenced 15 years in prison for denouncing the human rights abuses of Saudi during his media interviews and in social media. Khair also had an organization that monitored the human rights in Saudi Arabia.

– Prepared by Abhishek Biswas of NewsGram Twitter: @Writing_Desire

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Snapchat blocks Al Jazeera in Saudi Arabia

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Social media platform Snapchat has blocked access to Al Jazeera content in Saudi Arabia
Image: IANS

Riyadh, Sep 18 (IANS) Social media platform Snapchat has blocked access to Al Jazeera content in Saudi Arabia, the media reported on Monday.

The popular photo-sharing app said it was asked by the Saudi authorities to remove the Qatari-backed broadcaster’s Discover Publisher Channel because it violated local laws, reports the BBC.

“We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate,” a Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement.

Qatar is in an ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The four countries cut ties with Qatar earlier this year, accusing the country of supporting terrorism.

After the start of the dispute, Saudi Arabia had also demanded the Qatari government to shut Al Jazeera altogether as one of 13 conditions to remove sanctions against the country.

However, those conditions were later withdrawn. (IANS)