KATHMANDU, March 31: The government on Thursday announced that it is to run volunteers' camps across Saudi Arabia to facilitate the return home of Nepalis working in the Gulf kingdom without proper legal status.
The announcement camesa a day after a three-month amnesty granted by the Saudi government came into effect. The amnesty is expected to benefit around 2.5 million foreign workers including 40,000 Nepalis, according to Nepal's embassy in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia hired 138,529 Nepali workers in fiscal year 2015-16, more than Nepalis in any other country.
Senior government officials said at a press conference organised at the Prime Minister's Office that volunteers from more than 30 non-governmental organizations operating in Saudi Arabia would be mobilized in areas of the kingdom where the number of Nepali migrant workers is relatively high.
Nepal's embassy would also mobilize additional staff to facilitate the process.
"The amnesty comes as a big opportunity for stranded Nepalis in Saudi Arabia who need to come home. The government wants to make sure all the workers concerned benefit from it. The volunteer camps are going to be very helpful," said Rishi Raj Adhikari, the prime minister's foreign affairs advisor. In normal circumstances, illegal migrants are required to serve a jail term and pay a hefty fine for immigration law violation before being allowed to return home.
"The volunteer camps should benefit those who do not have access to the embassy in Riyadh. The government is working to mobilize as many volunteers as possible across Saudi Arabia," said Adhikari.
Saudi media has reported that the Saudi government, which plans to flush out all undocumented workers, is mulling harsher penalties for migrants not taking advantage of the grace period. Quoting senior Saudi officials, Saudi daily Al Sharq has reported that undocumented or 'illegal' workers not making use of the amnesty would have to pay amounts of Rs 2,800,000 to 4,200,000 in fines before being allowed to return home.
Officials said the grace period is good news for migrant workers languishing in the kingdom without any job prospects. When the Saudi government announced a similar grace period in 2013, more than 50,000 migrant Nepali workers had benefited from it.
Hundreds of Saudi companies have laid off tens of thousands of foreign workers in recent months due to sluggishness in the economy.