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October 1999, Volume 6, Number 10

Middle East

Saudi Arabia. Police in September 1999 arrested 10,000 foreigners in Mecca who did not have valid work permits. In October 1997, Saudi Arabia launched a crackdown on illegal migrants; some 1.5 million left, and another one million had their status regularized by the end of 1998.

Iran. The deputy employment minister predicted that Iran will have three million unemployed by the end of 1999. He added that the estimated 1.4 million illegal foreign workers in Iran were part of the problem. The current unemployment rate is 15 percent and inflation is 20 percent.

UAE. The United Arab Emirates' arrested 374 foreign nationals between mid-August and mid-September. Most of the arrests were made in the mountainous border areas where illegal immigrants cross. Eighty-five percent of the UAE population are foreigners, most from the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Afghanistan and the Philippines.

Kuwait. The 111,000 stateless Arabs, called bidoons, living in Kuwait have until June 27, 2000 to legalize their status or face legal action. To qualify for citizenship, bidoons had to have registered in the 1985 census, when the first population census was carried out. Bidoon means "without" in Arabic. Prior to the 1990 Iraqi invasion, there were about 225,000 bidoons. After the Gulf War, a large number of bidoons thought to be Iraqis resettled in Iraq. Some bidoon are from families living in Kuwait without official status for several generations while others were attracted by the 1950s oil boom.

Pakistan. Some 500 Pakistanis living in 45 countries held a convention in August 1999 under the theme "Boosting Foreign Remittances and Earning Foreign Exchange Incomes - New Role of Overseas Pakistanis." The overseas Pakistanis asked the Pakistani government to end the ban on household maids traveling overseas: they proposed that only ethnic Pakistanis be permitted to hire Pakistani maids abroad.

Sri Lanka. The major sources of foreign exchange in Sri Lanka are garment exports, labor exports and tea exports—remittances were Rs64 billion in 1998, compared to Rs159 billion for garment exports and Rs50 billion for tea exports.

The Bureau of Foreign Employment said that Sri Lankan migrant worker returnees, many of them women, will be provided greater security at Colombo International Airport. Many returnees have been victimized by taxi drivers and others who rob them on the way home from the airport. The BFE will escort the returning workers from the plane to a special center and transport them home in special vehicles.

There are about 1.2 million Sri Lankans working aboard, 80 percent are female.

"Sri Lanka gives greater security to returnees," Xinhua, September 20, 1999. "Kuwait gives bidoon until June 2000 to legalize status," Agence France Presse, September 29, 1999. "Emirates arrests 374 illegal migrants in one month," Agence France Presse, September 29, 1999. "Iran on way to three million unemployed: minister," Agence France Presse, September 7, 1999.