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Saudi Sponsors Punish Their Workers by Declaring Them as "Runaways"

On May 6, 2010

Below is a letter we received from the president of the Federation of Kerala Associations in Saudi Arabia (FOKASA). FOKASA is a social organization of Indians working in Saudi Arabia that regularly provides assistance to Indians deprived of their human rights. The letter brings to attention an issue rarely discussed: forcing workers into a runaway status, which deprives workers of any rights, to make a profit of punish the worker.

Here is the letter (some minor edits were made for clarity):

The FOKASA wishes to make you aware of a very serious social issue concerning the expatriate workers from the South-East Asian countries, especially from India.

There is a provision in the Saudi Labor Laws (for expatriate workers) that states that a sponsor has absolute freedom to declare his/her workers "runaway" (Huroob in Arabic) if he is absent from duty for few days without permission from the sponsor. When the sponsor informs this matter to the passport department, the worker will become a runaway person. The consequences of becoming runaway are disastrous. The runaway person cannot go out of Saudi Arabia through normal channels like airports or seaports. He can leave to his country only through the deportation centres, and this only happens if the sponsor wishes to allow his worker to leave. Practically the life of a person becomes hell if he is made runaway. At present there is no solution to the Huroob.

This is a weapon as well as a business to many Saudi swindlers. They procure work visas from the Saudi Ministry of Interior to recruit workers to Saudi Arabia. They sell these visas to local agents in South-East Asian countries and make a nice profit. As soon as the worker lands in Saudi Arabia, the agent will declare him as a runaway, so that the Saudi man can approach the interior ministry and ask for the same number of visas that he made huroob.

A Saudi employer may declare his employee as a runaway if he feels that the worker is trying to approach the labor office to settle a dispute with him. There are innumerable occasions where the Saudi sponsors can punish their workers by making them a runaway. This is in fact a very very sharp weapon in the hands of unscrupulous Saudi employers. They use this weapon any time, even for minor issues.

We've documented scores of cases in our records where the Saudi employers declare poor workers runaway and make their life hell. The sponsor in this country is "owner" and the worker his "slave". He has absolute freedom to inflict maximum damage to the worker.

I earnestly request you to look into this issue and take up it with utmost concern.

Thanks and best regards.

R. Muraleedharan
President, FOKASA