Browsing 'amnesty' News

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Chantelle D'mello

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More than 3,500 undocumented workers in Qatar have left the country under the government’s amnesty scheme, which ended today.

People still living in Qatar without the legal paperwork are now expected to face tougher action by authorities.

The grace period began in September, after the Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced a three-month window for violators of Residence Law (No. 4 of 2004) to exit Qatar without legal consequences.

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road.

Aparajita Mukherjee / Doha News

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road.

To avail of the amnesty, residents were asked to provide proper documentation to the ministry’s Search and Follow Up Department.

Others who lost their passports, or needed extra assistance with legal papers, have been consulting with their designated embassies.

While some embassies are still waiting for the final count of applicants from the MOI, a few reported approximate figures.

Numbers so far

Since Sept. 1, thousands of expats have requested to leave Qatar via the amnesty scheme.

The Embassy of Bangladesh told Doha News that around 2,500 Bangladeshi residents have left Qatar.

Meanwhile, 159 Pakistanis and around 230 Filipinos also left the country, and in mid-November, the Sri Lankan Embassy said that more than 500 of its nationals had already gone.

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Mohamad Alodaima/Flickr

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The total tally is expected to rise as embassies said they will receive the final count from the MOI in the coming days.

“For those who are leaving, their (the workers’) sponsors usually turn in their passports at the Search and Follow Up Department at the Ministry of Interior, and from there they can proceed with the system, so it’s the first step in the process and it’s why we don’t have the total figures yet,” explained a representative from the Philippines Embassy.

Three weeks ago, some local embassies pleaded for more time to assist their nationals with legal and financial issues.

They reported that many people who had applied to leave didn’t have a valid passport, travel papers, plane tickets and/or their Qatar ID cards and entry visa copies.

Consequences

The MOI sent a reminded via Twitter reminding residents of the final day of the scheme, and the required documents needed.

In October, the ministry warned of a crackdown starting Dec. 1 on people who remain to live and work illegally in the country.

Officials announced that they will take strict legal action against violators.

It is against the law for expats to work in Qatar without valid documentation.

Additionally, those who wish to switch jobs must get approval from their current employer.

Sometimes, domestic workers who quit their jobs and leave their sponsor’s home can be classified as “runaway” or “absconding” employees.

They are subject to arrest and deportation, and anyone who hires them without proper documentation faces fines and jail time.

Thoughts?

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Mopaw Foundation/Flickr

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As the grace period for Qatar residents living here illegally nears its end, several local embassies have been pleading for more time to assist their nationals.

In August, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced a three-month window for certain expats to exit Qatar without legal consequences.

However, they need to provide proper documentation for the process to go smoothly.

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road in September.

Aparajita Mukherjee / Doha News

Workers waiting at the Search & Follow Up Department on Salwa Road in September.

Speaking to Doha News, the embassies of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Qatar said this has caused financial and legal issues for some.

Many people who wish to avail of the amnesty lack a valid passport, travel papers, plane tickets and/or their Qatar ID cards and entry visa copies.

More time needed

Extending the amnesty period from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 would help officials sort out these issues, said a representative from the Bangladesh Embassy.

“So far, we’re able to handle (them), and we’re trying our best to help those without legal documentation.

But if the government can grant an extension, that would be better, because we’re hoping that they can leave the country before the deadline without any consequences,” he said.

However, in a tweet this week, the MOI reiterated plans to stick to its deadline:

Additionally, a senior MOI official said last month that an extension was unlikely, as the amnesty was already “long enough.”

However, he added that some exceptions can be made for humanitarian reasons.

By the numbers

Since Sept. 1, thousands of expats have requested to leave Qatar via the amnesty scheme.

The Sri Lankan Embassy reported that more than 500 of its nationals have left so far. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Embassy is receiving some 100 applications a day for help.

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Mohamad Nuski/Flickr

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The Sri Lankan Embassy said it is expecting a gradual increase in the number until the deadline.

“It is really up to the government, but the number of people who are coming to us keeps on increasing, so we’re trying our best,” an official at the mission said.

Several other embassies have also reported rising demand for amnesty assistance, including the Philippines, Indian and Nepali missions in Qatar.

However, these officials have not publicly called for an extension to the grace period.

Consequences

Once the amnesty period is over, officials have warned of a crackdown on people who continue to live and work here illegally.

It is against the law for expats to work in Qatar without valid documentation.

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Peter Kovessy

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Additionally, those who wish to switch jobs must get approval from their current employer.

Sometimes, domestic workers who quit their jobs and leave their sponsor’s home can be classified as “runaway” or “absconding” employees.

They are subject to arrest and deportation, and anyone who hires them without proper documentation faces fines and jail time.

Thoughts?

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Richard Messenger/Flickr

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Officials are reportedly planning to launch an intensive search campaign for residents living illegally in Qatar in December.

Speaking to the Peninsula, a senior Ministry of Interior (MOI) official said that strict legal action will be taken against those who don’t take advantage of the ongoing amnesty offer.

It is unlikely that the three-month period will be extended, as it is already long enough, the Director of Search and Follow Up Department (SFD) Brig. Abdullah Jaber Lebdah added.

Until Dec. 1, those living here without the appropriate visas can leave without consequences, provided they have the necessary documents.

Documentation

So far, thousands of people appeared to have taken advantage of the amnesty offer, many of them from South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Some who have spoken to Doha News said they lost their legal status after fleeing sponsors who failed to pay them or who were abusive.

However, others have had trouble leaving because they lack the proper documents, including: a valid passport or travel papers, a plane ticket or reservation and an ID card or entry visa copy.

Speaking to the Peninsula, Lebdah said that exceptions can be made in some cases based on humanitarian grounds.

‘Threat’

Last year, the MOI asserted that “runaway workers” are a “social, security and economic threat” to the country’s residents.

According to the labor law, these residents can face up to three years in jail and/or QR50,000 in fines.

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Osarieme Eweka/Flickr

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However, the government has increasingly sought to enforce harsher punishments against the employers of these workers.

For example, businesses caught with undocumented employees risk being blacklisted, or prohibited from recruiting new employees for two years.

And those found guilty of sheltering or employing them could also face prison and fines of up to QR100,000.

Thoughts?