Indonesia Asks Saudis to Extend Deadline for Undocumented Workers

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian officials called on Saudi Arabia to extend a deadline to register undocumented foreign workers on Monday, a day after a woman died from suspected heat exhaustion outside the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah while waiting in line for new papers, and frustrated workers set fires and clashed with security forces.

The woman, who Indonesian officials said was in her 50s, was one of thousands of undocumented Indonesian laborers who had spent hours lined up in the hot sun outside the consulate on Sunday, hoping to get new passports or other documents that would enable them to stay in Saudi Arabia beyond July 3. On that day, the Saudi authorities have said, an amnesty period for undocumented workers will expire, and a crackdown will begin, as part of the country's efforts to put more Saudis to work in the private sector.

The country has some eight million legal foreign workers and an estimated two million to three million undocumented workers, even as Saudi unemployment becomes more problematic, as easy government jobs dry up.

At least 124,000 undocumented foreign workers have left Saudi Arabia since April 1, under a three-month amnesty program that allows them to try to sort out their papers or leave without paying a penalty, according to Reuters, which cited a local report. The bulk of the undocumented workers are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Other countries, too, have reportedly sought delays in the deadline.

A spokeswoman for the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration in Jakarta said the woman who died outside the Indonesian consulate on Sunday was 55, but an official with the Foreign Ministry said she was 57. A small number of other people suffered minor injuries in the unrest, including security guards and other people who had suffered from the heat, said Tatang Razak, director of protection of Indonesian citizens and legal entities at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta, who is on temporary assignment in Jeddah.

"A large number of our citizens have come – it peaked on Saturday with 12,000 people, and people were camping out and it was extremely hot," Mr. Tatang said by telephone. "We had advised some to come back another day, but some of them were very disappointed, and they provoked others."

Mr. Tatang said the consulate was operating 20 hours a day to process new passports for undocumented workers, or to prepare forms for exit visas. As of Monday, he said, the consulate had assisted more than 48,000 people, but he said there could be as many of 200,000 undocumented Indonesians in the country and it would be "almost impossible" to help them all before the July 3 deadline.

"We have asked for an extension and I have met with Saudi government officials to discuss the matter," Mr. Tatang said. "We are trying to solve this problem through a 'win-win.' Saudi Arabia needs Indonesian workers, and we need to help our workers have jobs."

Dita Indah Sari of the Manpower Ministry said there were an estimated 1.2 million Indonesians living in Saudi Arabia. She said that many were long-term residents but that others had overstayed their visas after traveling there for the Islamic pilgrimage known as umrah earlier this year. She said that there were 600,000 Indonesians living in the Jeddah area alone and that an estimated 30 percent of them had invalid passports or expired visas.

"After July 3, all migrant workers who don't have documents will be arrested and jailed by the Saudi government," Ms. Dita said, adding that very few of the workers who had visited the consulate were seeking assistance in leaving the country.

In 2011, Indonesia barred new migrant workers from going to Saudi Arabia after an Indonesian maid who had been convicted of killing her employer was beheaded in Mecca Province. Indonesian officials, already under pressure after cases of domestic workers being mistreated in Saudi Arabia, were furious that they had not been given advance notice of the execution.

The Indonesian and Saudi governments are currently negotiating a formal agreement regarding Indonesian migrant workers that includes a guaranteed minimum wage, Mr. Tatang said.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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