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Huroob or not Huroob
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 02 - 03 - 2015

Mahmoud Ahmad

HUROOB, escaped employee, is an option open for sponsors or employers at the Interior Ministry where they can report their domestic help and labor who escapes from work. There have been many cases of expatriate labor that come to Saudi Arabia for work and then escape from their sponsors and work at a different job illegally.
The sponsor in this case loses money that he paid in bringing the expat worker to Saudi Arabia and he/she is not compensated. In addition the sponsor has to redo the process if he/she seeks to fill the position left vacant by the escaped employee.
However, there is another side to Huroob — the exploitation of this option by some unscrupulous sponsors. These sponsors report their workers as escaped and put them on Huroob status although they are not on Huroob. They do this either as a form of punishment or just to escape from paying some of the dues necessitated to keep their status legal.
This Huroob was a result of abuse of the option by the sponsors and many innocent expat workers have become victims to such deceitful practices. Some sponsors even resorted to blackmailing their expat workers either to pay them a percentage of their wages or to be reported.
I know an expat friend of mine, working in a private company, had the threat of Huroob hanging over his head. The company wants to get rid of him, though he has been an exemplary employee. But out of the blue, a Human Resources employee threatened that if he did not transfer his sponsorship then the company would report him on Huroob. Is this legal, I ask? The man has not escaped then why is he being threatened this way.
There were a large number of ruthless sponsors who were willing to do anything to get rid of expat workers under their sponsorship when the system was tightened. We remember in the past when Hafez, a monthly financial help to support the unemployed while searching for a job, was introduced many sponsors canceled their commercial certificates and reported their expat workers on Huroob so that they could be eligible for Hafez.
This shows that the possibility to break the law and abuse the system that was designed to protect the sponsor is there. When the sponsor uses this system to harm the expat worker, is the sponsor, in this case, punished? Where can innocent expat workers go when they are falsely reported to be on Huroob? Though there is a law in the system that calls for punishment of the sponsor filing false Huroob reports, the vast majority of simple expat labors do not know how to act in such cases. They are always left standing helpless, fearing the hand of the law if they are caught.
The irony is that expat friends have related incidents to me where the sponsors callously put their workers on Huroob, despite knowing fully well they have not escaped, just to escape paying the end of service benefits (ESBs). Most of the employees find that they have been put on Huroob either when they are applying for their family vacation or some official paper or license. It is then when their nightmare begins, not knowing how to escape from this limbo status.
I remember writing an article in early 2013 about the two scary words, reported Huroob, when the crackdown against illegal workers was at its peak. In that article I talked about how Saudi sponsors abuse this system in order to get rid of their employees, and the easiest way is to report them escaped. Since I wrote that article, I received many emails from victims of unfair Saudi sponsors, who simply reported them on Huroob. In one of the emails, the sender wrote: "My father is going through such a nerve shattering experience and hence all my family too. We have lived in the Kingdom for last 22 years. And my father so far has spent 35 years in the Kingdom.
“My father worked at a very reputable company for 25 years, and he left that company with dignity and honor. He later joined a company where the Kafeel, sponsor, is not a Saudi, he happens to be an investor with a Saudi partner. Here our problem is the Pakistani partner.
“This guy is a shameless, merciless pharaoh of modern age, who put my father on 'Huroob' only to blackmail him, so that my father would not ask him his end of service benefits and salaries, which he did not pay for a year. He also asks my father whether "my father would like to die in the Kingdom or in our country back home. He is keeping my father as a slave."
In another email, a victim wrote: "My Kafeel reported me Huroob about more than one year ago. Since then I have been begging him to remove the Huroob. He has even taken money from me but he is doing nothing about it. After some time he told me to go the agents in the street to solve it. I even tried that but still no results.
“I am an engineer and I had a lot of good opportunities but due to Huroob I could not avail those. All that time I was just sitting at home doing nothing. I am really depressed now and don't know what to do. I can't go to my country and I can't even work here. So, sir, can you suggest to me any way or anything that I can do to get rid of this Huroob. Kindly help me. I will really, really appreciate your help."
The appeals from the hapless victims are heart-rending. I am not aware if there is a system to deal with expatriates reported wrongly on Huroob. It looks like there isn't any, because from what I have seen and heard the vast majority is stuck without a solution. In the past, having too many expat workers was a profitable business, because some percentage was paid to the sponsor when they were allowed to work in a different job. Now when the market is organized, they want to escape with a minimal responsibility, what is better than reporting Huroob?
An independent government department should be formed to investigate this and take bad sponsors to task. Consulates also should work closely with this department and solve the issue of those abused by Huroob. They either should be given the chance to find another job, if there is any, or they should get a final exit and a ticket back home at the expense of the sponsor. This issue should not be tolerated anymore.

— The writer can be reached at [email protected] Twitter:@anajeddawi_eng

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