The dreams of earning a decent living for their families back home have been shattered for 700 Pakistani workers. Trapped in Saudi Arabia, deprived of their passports and not allowed to work, these honest and hard working Pakistani citizens have been swindled of their life savings in a fraud case involving a Turkish construction company and its Saudi employees.
Talking to The Express Tribune about their ordeal, the workers revealed that they arrived in Saudi Arabia towards the end of 2011 and since then have not been allowed to work or travel outside the Kingdom.
A Turkish company, MAAPA Construction and Trade had hired these Pakistani workers through different travel and recruiting agencies during 2011 after payment of a hefty sum against visa issuance. The stranded workers revealed that these agencies included Al Jawad recruiting agency and Iqra recruiting agency, among others.
However, once the labourers reached the kingdom, they were informed that the company did not have enough work. “We gave our passports to our respective agents and were issued Iqama (residence permit), but before we could begin work we were informed by a Saudi agent that the company did not have enough work, advising us to wait. He added that the company will call us when they need us,” they revealed.
As it turned out, the visas issued to the Pakistani’s were in fact illegal. As the fraud came to light, a case was registered at Emara (Governor House), Riyadh and the passports of the 700 workers were confiscated by Governor House Police. The case is currently under process.
The Turkish company, instead of helping the stranded Pakistani citizens, blamed their manager for issuing fake visas for work that never existed. The manager and his Saudi counterparts are now under arrest.
“When we met the manager of the company, he confided to us that the visas we are holding are illegal. He said the company would help us in the deportation process,” according to Zeeshan Ahmad, one of the stranded workers.
Ahmad said this was unacceptable. He added that the Pakistani workers are demanding that they be reimbursed for their expenses and be allowed to exit properly from the Kingdom, since they did not commit any fraud.
However, the Pakistani workers are stuck. It has been almost a year since the case was first registered but no respite in sight for these workers, who are not allowed to transfer their work permits to another company.
“We are not sure how much time it will take. We are innocent; we paid a handsome amount and came to, the kingdom for a better future. Instead we are suffering for someone else’s crime,” said Shahzad Kashmiri, another Pakistani worker.
“We went to the embassy of Pakistan, hoping to receive help. Despite our frequent visits and our meeting with ambassador Muhammad Naeem Khan, no progress has been made on our behalf as yet,” said Kashmiri. No Pakistani official at the Foreign Office was available for comment on the issue.
Desperate for salvation and faced with a lack of response from the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, these labourers are now appealing to President Asif Ali Zardari, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the Minister for Overseas Pakistanis to take notice of the case and give them the opportunity to travel back to their homeland.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2013.