By DANIEL MUNDEN, Posted on » Thursday, August 06, 2009
BAHRAIN could face an influx of illegal workers if it does not face up to human trafficking, a leading rights activist has warned. Although the problem of immigrants attempting to gain access to the country's shores is not major now, it could soon become a significant issue in the Gulf, said Migrant Workers' Protection Society action committee head Marietta Dias.
She was reacting to reports that at least seven Pakistanis and an Iranian sailor starved to death after a failed mission to smuggle illegal migrants into Dubai.
Four survivors managed to reach the town of Dera Ghazi Khan in Pakistan's central Punjab province, where they informed authorities about the incident.
Ms Dias told the GDN that she was not aware of any similar attempts by people to enter Bahrain by sea.
"To be frank, it's the first time we've ever heard of people trying to gain access to Gulf countries like this.
"We've always said that no one should try to enter the country illegally. They should use airports and seaports and have the correct visas - the problems begin after they've gained access to the country.
"There must be a reason for them wanting to come, but the authorities must nip this in the bud or things could certainly worsen."
Ms Dias admitted she was surprised that people would resort to such an activity in the hope of gaining access to a country, claiming they would find it very difficult to survive.
"It's completely new to us and I find it difficult to imagine what these people hope to do in the Gulf.
"What are they actually planning to do when they arrive?
"They'll get in the worst of trouble because they'll be illegal from the minute they land here.
"They won't be able to get jobs or do so many things. In reality they are doing themselves a big disservice trying to gain entry like this."
She said the Labour Market Regulatory Authority's (LMRA) new sponsorship system for expatriate workers, which came into effect at the start of the month, aims to ensure legal workers are protected and illegals flushed out.
It could potentially create an even bigger problem for Bahrain, where an estimated 50,000 workers are living illegally, she said.
"The problem is these illegals will be taken for a ride, they could do their job and be told they will not be paid and there is nothing they can do," she warned.
"It's up to both the Pakistani and Bahraini governments to monitor and regulate it, but it is very difficult.
"I hope the problem doesn't worsen for the kingdom and these people - if authorities find them, they will be deported and lose everything in the end, it'll work against them."
The Pakistan Embassy said although the actions of some of its nationals was illegal and unwise, it was understandable in the current economic climate.
"This is not the correct way to go about this sort of thing but we have never heard of our nationals trying to gain access to Bahrain this way," said deputy head of mission Mohammed Saleem.
"It is a one-time incident and part of a global phenomenon.
"It's a natural desire to seek greener pastures, but some unwise people will always make the mistake of resorting to this sort of activity.
"It is a very unfortunate incident and people should not do such a thing, but what they are told can sometimes convince them to do anything to improve their standing."
The group had travelled to the Gulf after crossing Iran from Pakistan, but their boat was stuck at sea for 10 days because of a technical fault.
The survivors were rescued by fishermen, while those who starved to death were thrown overboard.
Foreign Ministry assistant under-secretary for co-ordination and follow-up Shaikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, who heads the Bahrain National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, declined to comment and referred all queries to the Coastguard.
Bahrain Coastguard yesterday said they had no record of people trying to enter Bahrain this way and had no further information.