Sunday, 04 October 2015  -  20 Dhul-Hijjah 1436 H
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NSHR sees ‘unacceptable’ conditions of ‘bridge dwellers’

NSHR chief blames consulates, sponsors, and Umrah firms JEDDAH – The chief supervisor of the National Society for Human Rights for the province of Makkah has criticized consulates for the deteriorating living conditions of foreigners taking refuge under the Sitteen Overpass in Jeddah and called upon the Passports Department to investigate claims of maltreatment from some individuals.
The statements from Hussein Al-Shareef came following a tour he made of several sites Tuesday in the districts of Al-Kandara and Al-Saheefa, during which he spoke to persons dwelling at the sites.
“The situation as a whole is unacceptable and needs to be quickly addressed to by the Passports Department, first and foremost from a security perspective given that the presence of such numbers of people can only be having a bad effect on the wider public,” Al-Shareef said.
“Some persons might turn to crime, to theft and immoral activity, and the lack of action taken to address the problem will only reflect badly on the Kingdom,” he said.
Most of the persons living at the sites are, according to Al-Shareef, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Indians and Thais who claim they came to the Kingdom on Umrah visas and then did not return to their home countries because of failures on the part of Umrah companies with whom they were registered.
“We need urgent intervention to identify those people, whether done as a gradual process or by nationality, and look into their claims and see if Umrah companies have in fact failed them and address and punish those responsible,” Al-Shareef said.
Documented flaws
Another motive for the presence of many, Al-Shareef said, was that after entering the Kingdom on work visas their sponsors failed to pay them over long periods for their work, leading to them leaving their sponsors and seeking work elsewhere.
“The consulates of these people have failed to listen to their complaints and also failed to help them meet their daily living needs,” Al-Shareef said.
Al-Shareef added that the NSHR had conducted a study of this last group’s situation and contacted the relevant authorities to propose an “urgent solution”.
“Initial inquiries indicate flaws in the sponsorship system which the NSHR has previously warned about,” he said.
Al-Shareef noted that sponsors “have both rights and duties toward persons under their sponsorship”, and proposed fingerprinting those living under the overpasses to check for any involvement in criminal activity.
He also called upon the Passports Department to investigate claims of “selectivity” and “illegal actions” when rounding up persons.
Humanitarian appeal
The NSHR chief also sent a message to the Zamzam Medical Services Society and other charities to address the “humanitarian situation” of women and children residing at the sites, and other NSHR representatives deplored the unhygienic conditions in which many persons were eating, drinking and conducting basic needs, describing the situation as “threatening the environment and public health”.
“There are also arguments and fights between persons of different communities, and harassment of women,” they said.
“We will publish our final recommendations resulting from the tour soon,” Al-Shareef said.
The NSHR was reported at the beginning of the week as saying that the problem of “bridge dwellers” was particularly acute in Jeddah, with the site most afflicted being the Sitteen Overpass.
The number of immigrants rose markedly prior to the Umrah and Haj seasons, the organization said, and dwellers were described as “fully aware that the government provides for the costs of deportation during these periods, and many intentionally seek deportation, as is evidenced by their competing for places on vans and buses sent to the sites by the Passports Department”.
Mohammed Al-Hussein of Makkah’s Passports Department was also concerned at the security threat.
“Some criminals on the run have been found hiding among the immigrants,” Al-Hussein said.
“We are aware of their activities though, and eye identification techniques are helping to prevent them leaving the country if they have any crimes against their name, and also prevent them returning on different passports.” – Okaz/SG
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