Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saudi Arabia to intensify crackdown on illegal foreigners working in the country

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia will take new steps, including jail terms for small business owners and the hiring of 1,000 inspectors, to crack down on foreigners working illegally in the world’s top oil exporter, Labour Minister Adel Al Fakieh said.
“We have and will continue to have millions of foreign workers. We have 7.5 million legal foreign workers and we need them,” Al Fakieh told Saudi-owned MBC television this week, according to a transcript posted on the MBC website.
“We will continue to issue visas for others but those who want to come to this country have to respect the law.”
Saudi Arabia has been deporting hundreds of thousands of illegal foreign workers as part of labour market reforms designed to reduce unemployment among its own citizens, which is officially estimated at 12 per cent.

If it persists, the crackdown could have major effects on the Saudi economy, which has for decades relied heavily on foreigners from south and southeast Asia as well as Arab countries in its energy, construction and services industries.
In addition to legal foreign workers, analysts have estimated the number of illegals at 1 or 2 million, conceivably more. The governments of Yemen and India’s state of Kerala have expressed concern about a sudden influx of returning workers because of the Saudi crackdown.

Al Fakieh said about 200,000 foreigners had been deported in recent months, and that 840,000 had left Saudi Arabia - most of them voluntarily - since a quota system for companies to hire local citizens was introduced in late 2011.
As a part of new measures to be implemented from next month, the ministry will set up a toll-free line for the public to report violations, he said. Business owners will be able to check online whether they violate the rules.
The ministry will hire 1,000 more inspectors who will be accompanied by policemen when checking businesses, and firms will face penalties if they harbour illegals, Al Fakieh added.
“If an owner of a small enterprise conspires with an illegal foreign worker, he will be subject to sanctions,” Al Fakieh said. Possible punishments will include a 100,000 riyal ($26,700) fine for each illegal worker, two years in prison or both.
In the next version of its labour quota system, which will be launched in the next three months, requirements to hire Saudi citizens in the retail sector will be increased, Al Fakieh said.
Some businesses and schools in Saudi Arabia have reported difficulties operating over the last several weeks as some expatriate workers have stayed at home to avoid inspectors checking their work permits.
But so far, there is no clear sign that the Saudi economy as a whole has suffered, with the stock market and business sentiment surveys remaining strong. In early April, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz ordered that migrant workers breaking regulations be given a grace period of up to three months to sort out their papers.
Al Fakieh said his ministry’s policies over the past 18 months had put some 600,000 Saudi citizens into private sector jobs, though he added that because of staff turnover, about 400,000 now remained employed in those jobs.
A cut in the number of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia could benefit the economy by reducing the flow of billions of dollars of earnings being remitted abroad every year. It could also pressure companies into raising wages for workers among the country’s roughly 19 million local citizens, analysts say.
Another major step that could reduce foreign labour would be to lift the country’s ban on women driving. Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal threw his support behind that reform this week, saying it would make economic sense by dispensing with at least 500,000 foreign drivers. But there is no clear sign that the government, conservative in many social issues, will take that step.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wasim Akram: You have to go where life takes you

Kolkata: Kolkata Knight Riders bowling coach Wasim Akram is taking a break from the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year to spend more time with his family. He tells Gulf News he’s not sure if he’ll be back for 2014.
The legendary Pakistan pacer is back in his home country as the Knight Riders tackle IPL 6, with veteran player Brett Lee filling in his backroom position in his stead.
Akram, whose wife Huma died in 2009, is glad to be spending time with sons Tahmoor and Akbar and insists he can’t commit to returning to KKR as planning ahead is very difficult due to the constantly changing nature of the sport.
In a wide-ranging interview, Akram also discussed the influence of Imran Khan, the India-Australia Test series, the strength of South Africa and what the future might hold for Pakistan.

Saudi proposes plan to dig Strait of Hormuz bypass

Manama: A Saudi national has proposed digging a canal that would allow ships and tankers to bypass the Strait of Hormuz.
The canal, with a length of between 60 and 100 kilometres, would link the Arabian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and would end reliance on the Strait of Hormuz, said Sami Al Muhaidab.
According to reports, an average of 14 tankers per day passed out of the Arabian Gulf through the Strait in 2011, carrying 17 million barrels of crude oil, representing 35 per cent of the world's seaborne oil shipments and 20 per cent of oil traded worldwide.
However, tension, mainly between Iran and the US, has often caused Tehran to threaten that it would seal off the Strait of Hormuz.

Saudi youth jailed for brandishing firearm

Manama: A Saudi court has sentenced three young men to spend time in jail and to be lashed for brandishing a gun in public.
Two defendants, including the son of a well-known businessman, were given 15 months in prison and 60 lashes, while the third was handed 24 months in jail and 50 lashes and was barred from leaving the country for two years afterwards, Saudi daily Okaz reported on Thursday.
The lashes will be given out over three times, including twice in front of the popular market in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The three young men, who were not named by the daily were reportedly riding in a car when they brandished the gun before attempting to flee, driving opposite the flow of traffic and putting people’s lives at risk, the case documents said.

Syrian regime targeting civilians in air strikes

Beirut: Air strikes have hit bakeries and hospitals among other civilian targets in Syria, a watchdog reported Thursday, accusing the regime of killing thousands in such raids it said amounted to war crimes.
“Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war wilfully — that is intentionally or recklessly — are responsible for war crimes,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report titled “Death from the Skies”.
“Syrian government air strikes that have deliberately or indiscriminately killed civilians appear to be part of systematic and widespread attacks against the civilian population that Human Rights Watch previously found amount to crimes against humanity,” it added.
Basing its findings on investigations in rebel-held areas of three war-torn provinces, the New York-based group documented air strikes on four bakeries and two hospitals, along with other civilian targets.

Congo soldier says he raped 53 women

Minova: In a small house on a hill overlooking Lake Kivu, a young Congolese army soldier recounts the crimes that he and his comrades committed in the town of Minova a few months ago.
“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.
“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” says 22-year-old Mateso, not his real name.
“When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.

Iran ex-nuclear negotiator runs for president

Tehran: A former Iranian nuclear negotiator announced on Thursday he would run for president, the most moderate contender so far to bid to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a June election dominated by conservatives.
Hassan Rowhani, 64, was head of the powerful Supreme National Security Council under presidents Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, considered a master of realpolitik rather than an ideologue, and Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for wide-ranging social and political reforms.
Rowhani, a cleric, presided over talks with Britain, France and Germany that saw Iran agree to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities between 2003 and 2005.
He resigned after Ahmadinejad took office in August that year. The nuclear work was resumed and Rowhani was derided for being too accommodating in negotiations.

Israelis shoot ‘physically disabled’ Palestinian He was seriously wounded b

Hebron, West Bank: Israeli troops shot and wounded a physically disabled Palestinian man during an arrest operation in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, a prisoners’ rights group said.
Motazz Obaidu, 32, was “seriously wounded by Israeli army gunfire during an arrest operation” at dawn, the Ramallah-based Prisoners Club said, describing him as “physically disabled” although it did not say how.
Local residents said the arrest took place at Obaidu’s shop.
The Israeli army confirmed that a man had been shot after he turned violent during an arrest operation, but did not comment on whether or not he was disabled.

China bird flu live Twitter updates in contrast to outbreak 10 years ago

Shanghai: After a new and lethal strain of bird flu emerged in Shanghai two weeks ago, the government of China’s bustling financial capital responded with live updates on a Twitter-like microblog. It’s a starkly different approach than a decade ago, when Chinese officials silenced reporting as a deadly pneumonia later known as SARS killed dozens in the south.
The contrast shows a new, though still evolving, openness in China that was learned from the SARS debacle, which devastated the government’s credibility at home and abroad. It also reflects the demands of a more prosperous and educated citizenry for information and its use of social media to get it.
“Publicize information to prevent ‘bird flu panic’,” read a headline of a recent front-page commentary in the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper, that urged government departments to release information quickly about an outbreak that has killed nine and sickened 24 others.
Though some microbloggers and media are questioning why it took a couple of weeks after the first deaths for authorities to announce the new strain of bird flu, international health experts have broadly praised China’s response. The government has said that it takes time for scientists to identify the virus and that such a finding had to be put through several layers of verification before being announced.

Pakistan votes for overseas nationals a problem, Supreme Court told

Islamabad: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) informed the Supreme Court on Thursday of multiple hurdles to giving overseas Pakistanis right to vote in the 2013 general election in the country.
In a report submitted to the court, the ECP said it would be difficult to give voting right to non-resident nationals in the May 11 parliamentary elections.
Voters have to register themselves at the concerned Pakistani diplomatic missions and this process would take time, the report said.
It is mandatory to get permission from host countries for polling and the ECP will also require adequate time for ensuring logistics for the polling staff

Friday, April 5, 2013

India minister Vayalar Ravi to visit Saudi Arabia

New Delhi: Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi will visit Saudi Arabia to convey India’s apprehension about possible job losses to Indians due to implementation of a new labour drive — Nitaqat — in the nation that seeks to reserve 10 per cent jobs for nationals.
The decision on Ravi’s visit to the country was taken after he discussed the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Ravi held a separate meeting with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. Sources said the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry was in touch with Saudi authorities to finalise the dates for the visit.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had sought the Prime Minister’s intervention to ensure that Indians working in that country do not face any hardship due to the new legislation. As per estimates, over 500,000 people from Kerala are currently working in the country.
The Nitaqat law makes it mandatory for local companies to hire one Saudi national for every 10 migrant workers. There has been widespread perception that the new policy will lead to denial of job opportunities for a large number of Indians working there.

The sources said government has already asked the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia to take up the issue with the government of that country. The Indian Embassy in Riyadh had yesterday urged the Indian community not to panic on basis of media reports. It said a number of Indians have approached the embassy seeking issuance of Out Pass (Emergency Certificate) to leave the country.
An official said here on Wednesday that there has not been any significant rise in Indians returning home due to the policy.
“We have not seen any significant increase in number of people coming out due to Nitaqat. We have seen a slight increase in the number of people coming back due to irregular appointments or irregular working hours,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the external affairs ministry spokesperson.
“We are trying to ameliorate their conditions,” he added.
He added that the ambassador (Hamid Ali Rao) has placed officials in Damman and other ports to help those who want to come back and do not have the relevant travel documents.
To tackle the huge number of illegal workers or those flouting Saudi labour norms, the kingdom “is trying to merge a corporation to recruit people, which will be a government company”.
“Labour in an important component of our relations. There is ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia on labour and we are in discussions of taking their support of our electronic attestation of labour contracts. There are a number of issues we are talking about and we want to understand what is the reality,” an official said.
Indians are an actively preferred community in the Gulf. “They work better, work very hard and do not involve themselves in local politics,” said the official.
There are 6.5 million Indians in the Gulf, including 2.45 million in Saudi Arabia.
According to the World Bank, in 2012 Indians worldwide sent back remittances of $70 billion, with around 60 per cent of it coming from those working in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia is trying to identify and send back Indians who are flouting the work rules — those workers who go to the kingdom on a specific job and then move to another job, or go with one sponsor but then move on to another sponsor.
— with inputs from PTI

Pilgrims die as truck crashes into airport in Saudi Arabia

Jeddah: A service truck crashed into a passenger lounge at Jeddah international airport in Saudi Arabia, killing two Iranian pilgrims and injuring four others, reports said on Friday.
The truck, driven by a Nepalese man, careered through the glass panes of the King Abdulaziz International Airport terminal on Thursday, the reports said, citing the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority.
The Iranians had been waiting to board a flight to Tehran after pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam television said the two passengers who died were in their sixties and that two of the four injured were treated on the spot and able to travel, while the other two were hospitalised
The Nepalese truck driver was arrested and an investigation launched into the accident, Saudi media reports said.

Jordan says Saudi to free reform activist

Amman: Saudi authorities are to release a Jordanian reform activist held since the beginning of the year in a case that drew concern from human rights groups, the foreign ministry in Amman said Thursday.
“Saudi authorities told us that Khalid Al Natur will return to Jordan, most likely on Sunday,” ministry spokesman Sabah Al Rifai said.
Natur, a 27-year-old website developer and reform activist, was detained on January 6 when he and four associates arrived at Riyadh airport on a business trip, Amnesty International said.
The other four “were told they would risk a similar fate if they did not leave the airport immediately,” the London-based watchdog said.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Saudi Arabia may ban VOIP and messaging services

Dubai: The Saudi telecommunication regulator’s threat to ban voice-over-IP (VOIP) internet telephony services and mobile messaging services has evoked strong reactions from citizens and expatriate residents of the country.
According to sources from local telecommunications companies, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in the country has demanded that it be allowed to monitor encrypted applications, according to a report in English daily Arab News.
According to the report, users of mobile messaging service WhatsApp and VOIP services Viber and Skype in the kingdom face the risk of being barred from these applications if the operators of these communication platforms do not provide a monitoring server by the end of this week.
“I would be very disappointed if CITC disconnects this server; I use it every day to talk to my wife and children who live in India,” Indian schoolteacher Mohammad Akram told the Saudi daily.

Saudi women allowed to ride bikes in public

Manama: Saudi women have been allowed to ride buggies and bikes in public after the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice lifted a ban on them.
Under the new rules, women can use parks, esplanades and open desert areas and enjoy themselves as long as they are modestly dressed, sources from the Commission told local Arabic daily Al Youm.
A male relative should be present to ensure he can provide prompt assistance in case of falls or accidents, the source said.
Women wishing to ride the buggies or bikes should avoid places where there are assemblies of young people to protect themselves from physical or verbal harassment and possible theft, he said.

Saudi Arabia cracking down on foreign workers

Riyadh: Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia stayed away en masse from offices, stores and other workplaces on Monday as the government mounted a crackdown on illegal residents.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia — the biggest labour market in the Gulf, and home to an estimated two million to three million illegal foreign workers - have raided office buildings and set up document checkpoints on main roads recently for workers here illegally, according to workers, Saudis and media reports.
The sweeps make good on years of government promises to reduce the ranks of foreign workers who have kept much of the country’s private sector afloat even as the number of jobless young Saudis soars.
The government didn’t respond to requests to comment on the efforts or describe their scope

India: No need to panic over labour policy

New Delhi: Amid worries that Saudi Arabia’s new ‘nitaqat’ policy, which seeks to reserve 10 per cent jobs for Saudis, would affect thousands of Indian workers in the kingdom, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Monday said there was “no need to panic” and the Indian government was ready to provide any assistance to affected Indian workers.
“We are in touch [with the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia] and we will review it [situation] tomorrow [Tuesday],” Khurshid said on the sidelines of an event.
“If somebody has to go to another country, he has to satisfy the rules of that country. But if there is inconvenience caused to any Indian citizens, then whatever assistance we can give, we will provide,” Khurshid added.
He said the Indian ambassador [Hamid Ali Rao] has been in touch and “has gone to Dammam to see that people who are in distress have access to him... We should not allow this to cause any panic. This is routine stuff in any country”.

Thousands of Yemenis deported from Saudi Arabia

Sana’a: Saudi Arabia has begun deporting thousands of Yemeni labourers following new regulations requiring foreigners to work only for their sponsors, a Yemeni official said on Monday, a move that could “significantly damage” the poor country’s economy.
Some two million of Yemen’s 25 million citizens work abroad, more than half of them in larger and richer neighbour Saudi Arabia. Remittances bring in $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion) a year to Yemen, a country still grappling with revolt, a separatist movement and an Islamist insurgency.
“If the decision is implemented, it will cause significant damage to the ... Yemeni economy, of which expatriates are a backbone since their remittances reach about $2 billion a year,” Rajeh Badi, adviser to Yemen’s prime minister, said.
Badi said the issue would affect more than 200,000 Yemenis who will have entered Saudi Arabia on a work visa, but who do not work for the sponsor they originally registered with.

Young Pakistanis disenchanted with democracy: Poll

Islamabad: A larger number of young Pakistanis believe the country should be governed by Islamic law or military rule rather than democracy, according to a survey released Wednesday.
Pakistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 11 as the previous government completed its five-year term.
But a survey by the British Council found that young Pakistanis — defined as those between the ages of 18 and 29 — have grown more pessimistic about the future over this period, as the country has struggled with a weak economy, high inflation, pervasive energy shortages and a deadly Taliban insurgency.
About 94 per cent of young Pakistanis believe the country is going in the wrong direction, compared with 86 per cent in 2009, the study found. Less than a quarter believe democracy has benefited themselves or their families.

Saudi man gets ‘paralysis’ sentence

Dubai: Human rights organisation Amnesty International appealed to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday not to carry out a reported sentence of paralysis for a man in retribution for allegedly paralysing another man 10 years ago.
Ali Al Khawahir, 24, was reportedly sentenced to Qisas, or retribution, in the Eastern Province town of Al Ahsa and could be paralysed from waist down if he fails to pay compensation of one million riyals (Dh991,545), the rights watchdog said, citing Saudi media reports.
It said Khawahir had stabbed his friend in the back in 2003, rendering him paralysed from the waist down. He was 14 at the time.
“Paralysing someone as punishment for a crime would be torture,” said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty.