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Complaints of expats mistreatment: Committee on S Arabia embassy submits interim report today

ISLAMABAD: The committee, constituted by the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission (PMIC) for probing the claims made by expatriate labourers about mistreatment at the hands of the embassy staff in Riyadh, would submit its interim report, here on Monday (today).

The report would be placed before the government on the day when country’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Raja Ali Ejaz, would be attaining superannuation and retiring after 42 years of government service. He returned to Islamabad after relinquishing his charge a day before the orders for probe, as his replacement, Lt-Gen (retd) Bilal Akbar, had reached Riyadh immediately after his leaving the Saudi capital. The government has retained two of the six officers of the diplomatic, community welfare and consular wings of the embassy in Riyadh, who were placed under suspension, along with the ambassador last month by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Four of them have reached Islamabad and they will have to wait till the probe is complete.

The committee, headed by a former federal secretary Abu Akif, who also served for long in the Kingdom with the Pakistan mission, said the commission chairman would decide about further inquiry after going through the interim report. The committee could work for six more working days, out of 15 given to it. To a query, he told The News that the retired official would not be made subject of any disciplinary action, but financial implications if found, could hold. The matter in question is about the treatment and behaviour of the embassy staff. The committee has been tasked with looking into “inefficiency” in provision of services to the overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, the “extorting and fleecing” of expatriate workers and overseas Pakistanis, and a failure to solve problems of the Pakistani community.

The prime minister reportedly personally met Raja Ali Ejaz on his return and questioned him about the situation on ground. Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Saudi Arabia soon after the action. Zahid Hafeez Chaudhary, a spokesman for the Foreign Office, made it clear that the Foreign Office had a policy of “zero tolerance, whatsoever, for any lapse in the public service delivery”. The recalled diplomats include the deputy head of mission, counsellor, two community welfare attachés, and officials of NADRA [National Database and Registration Authority] and machine-readable passport. They were given 10-day notices to return to Pakistan.

The complaints about the embassy and its diplomatic staff had been pouring in since the start of Covid-19 pandemic last year. A Pakistani diplomat recalled that the embassy was rendered helpless in arranging the return of dead bodies due to halt of flights. Scores of workers were terminated and they were victimised by their employers for various reasons.

Saudi Arabia hosts some two million Pakistani expatriates, who send remittances worth over $5 billion every year.

The outgoing ambassador, in his presentation, had said that prisoners including Pakistanis, who complete their sentences in the Kingdom, were deported to their respective countries by the local authorities at the Saudi government expense. Mostly, flights of Saudi airlines were used to deport Pakistani prisoners. Due to suspension of flights, some prisoners, who had completed their jail terms, might have got delayed their return to Pakistan. But it was primarily due to special circumstances. Besides, in some cases where the sentence period was of longer duration (more than 10 or 20 years), their case files were/ are not traceable with the local authorities, which caused delay in processing of their release. In addition, a prisoner who is also declared “matloob” (owing money) by his Saudi sponsor, would not get released unless he pays the amount he owes or the sponsor pardons him.

During Covid-19 pandemic, the embassy and the consulate, within its limited resources, tried its best to reach out to the Pakistani community, distributed food items and attended to their other urgent needs. There was an extremely tough lockdown/ curfew regime enforced in the Kingdom for almost three months with no exception to diplomatic missions.

Pakistan’s embassy at Riyadh is situated within the diplomatic quarters compound where entry and exit are centrally controlled by the local police authorities. During lockdown/ curfew period, movement of consular visitors was restricted to bear minimum and this regime was uniformly implemented by the local authorities.

The Kingdom hosts the largest Pakistani diaspora in the world outside the country. The rate of routine death cases is also high. Due to high Covid-19 deaths and non-provision of the PIA flights, the bodies got piled up for some time. The mission nevertheless managed their shifting to mortuaries in coordination with the local authorities. After resumption of flights and availability of wide-bodied aircraft, all such bodies were repatriated to Pakistan at the earliest possible timeframe, added the ambassador.