Bangladesh expatriates block roads, demand govt arrange more flights to Saudi Arabia

Bangladeshi expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, who are stuck home after coming to their motherland on vacation before the ban on air travel took effect, staged demonstrations on Dhaka streets on Wednesday demanding the government take necessary steps to arrange flights to Saudi Arabia so that they may return to their jobs.

They blocked the road twice besides laying a siege to the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry.

The 20-minute blockade at Karwan Bazar in the capital around noon caused tailback on the streets. However, things got better when they left.

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Rubayet Zaman, additional deputy commissioner of Tejgaon division of the police, said traffic movement is now normal.

At around 9 in the morning, the expatriates blocked the road in the Karwan Bazaar for a while. They then went to the expatriate welfare ministry.

At around 11:00am, they gheraoed at the ministry in Ramna area. They also blocked the road in front of the ministry.

Assistant commissioner of police’s Ramna Zone SM Shamim said a delegation of the expatriates is scheduled to meet senior officials, including the expatriate welfare minister, today.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on the spot in the morning, expatriate Tajul Islam said, “We have come up with several demands. Our key point is iqama and extending the visa. The second demand is many of us have brought return tickets. We can go back to Saudi with these tickets. The third point is the price of our tickets should not be high.

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“We have demand the ministry to take necessary steps. After a while, we will have a meeting with the minister, secretary and other officials of the expatriate ministry.”

The stuck expatriates have been protesting for the second consecutive day by blocking the road at Karwan Bazar. After a three-hour protest yesterday, they lifted the road blockade and handed over a memorandum to the foreign ministry. At that time, an inter-ministerial meeting was going on at the foreign affairs ministry keeping foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen in the chair. After the meeting, a letter was sent to the Saudi Arabian government to extend the validity of Iqama and visas for those stranded expatriates in the country by three months.

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The Saudi government has permitted the launch of international flights from 15 September. The government allows Saudi Airlines to operate two flights a week. However, the Saudi authorities did not allow Bangladesh Biman to operate the flight that threw the expatriates in trouble since most of their return tickets were bought from Saudi Airlines and Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

Additional deputy commissioner Rubayet Zaman told Prothom Alo yesterday that Saudi Airlines’ 1,060 tickets of four flights have already been sold out.

Biman said they will operate eight flights a week to Saudi Arabia from 1 October if landing is allowed in Saudi Arabia.

Biman’s managing director and CEO Mokabbir Hossain yesterday said Biman was given eight flight slots to Saudi, but they did not provide any landing permission as yet. The flights will be operated once they get the permission.

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The civil aviation and tourism ministry has contacted the foreign affairs ministry to resolve the issue.

"We've asked the foreign ministry to hold talks with the Saudi authorities to extend the visa for the expatriate workers," senior secretary of the ministry Mohibul Haque told Prothom Alo yesterday.

“If Saudi Airlines requests us to increase the number of their flights, we are ready to allow them. But, they didn’t,” he added.