Wahib Abdul Fatah Soufi • Al-Eqtisadiah
Saturday 7 August 2004
Last Update 7 August 2004 12:00 am
The contents of the last Human Rights Watch report stirred considerable controversy concerning our treatment of non-Saudis in the Kingdom. According to the report, we mistreat non-Saudis, take advantage of them and violate their rights. There have been many responses to this report but probably the most important one was the reaction of the Minister of Labor Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi which was balanced and clear. Despite that, unofficial reactions were reported on the BBC website where many expressed their opinions regarding our treatment of foreigners. In any case, it is both beneficial and significant to listen to what is said about our treatment of foreigners in our country and to the comments made by some of those whom we have brought to our country. Perhaps this will play a role in defining our weaknesses so that we may remedy the situation.
Among the responses that were replete with exaggerations was one from someone who said that he had lived in the Kingdom for 10 years and had been involved in two unpleasant incidents while driving his car — as if only foreigners pay fines and go to jail for traffic offenses. Another said that he totally agreed with the report because the violation of foreigners’ rights is the norm in the Kingdom. He said he had come to the Kingdom to work and yet he had not received his salary. Another said that the situation of laborers in the Kingdom is deplorable because there is no law you can hold a Saudi accountable and make him give a worker his dues. And that there is no authority you can turn to get those dues. He added that in case a foreigner’s rights have been violated, he is forced to waive all rights just to be permitted to leave the country and return home in defeat.
On the other side was one who said that he had lived in the Kingdom for two years without any of his rights being violated. The reason seemed to be because he had entered the country on a visa after the contract had been signed in his country between him and his employer. There were also responses from citizens that were characterized by condescension. One citizen said that some Arabs go to Gulf countries and want to be treated as the equal of Gulf citizens in every way. They complain of low salaries and low status even though they earn more than they would in their home countries and would be prepared to work as waiters in restaurants and hotels in Europe and the USA. Another expressed the opinion that the foreign employee is often better off than the Saudi in regards to medical insurance, air tickets, vacations and the ease with which he transfers money. Few Saudis have these advantages as a result of employment. Regardless of the responses, the reality is that violations occur here just as in any other country in the world. The Saudi government has made rules that do not differentiate between citizens and residents and which preserve a foreign worker’s financial and human rights as well as punishing any violations against him.
These violations are essentially of two kinds: The first is when employers take advantage of the system to harm employees. The second is when an employer, due to the position he occupies, has a condescending attitude toward all other nationalities and because of this narrow viewpoint, he deals with non-Saudis, taking unfair advantage of his position. In my opinion the current efforts of the government can easily detect both kinds of violations. Efforts should also be made to make the employer and employee more aware and update the mechanisms of complaints about all those who do not follow the rules for fair treatment of employees.