Editorial: Detainee’s death
2 September 2009
The death of an Indian at a deportation center in Riyadh is cause for
serious concern. There are allegations that while being held, Mohammed
Saquib, arrested after his iqama expired, did not get necessary medical
treatment until it was too late.
It is alleged, moreover, that there are at present other untreated sick
detainees at the Riyadh center; one is said to be in a dangerous
condition. Overcrowding at the center and lack of adequate feeding may
also have contributed to Saquib’s demise. It is said that detainees even
have to sleep in the toilet areas because of a lack of space. The fact
that as many as 500 Indian deportees at the center have gone on hunger
strike following Saquib’s death in order to get the authorities and the
Indian Embassy to speed up the deportation process itself speaks
volumes. The situation appears anything but satisfactory.
The detention and expulsion of illegal immigrants is something that most
prosperous countries have to contend with.
In Saudi Arabia’s case, it is an inevitability given the large numbers
of foreigners who try to stay on in the hope of finding work after
performing Umrah or Haj or after their work and iqamas have expired.
There are also those who break the terms of their work contracts and
abscond. It is right that they should be expelled. That necessarily
involves a period of detention between being found and put on a flight
home. It is not just Indians who are affected: Pakistanis, Filipinos,
Indonesians and many other overstayers are just as likely to be detained
and thrown out. Only last week, it was reported by the Foreign Ministry
in Jakarta that some 1,000 Indonesian overstayers are currently being
detained in the Kingdom pending deportation and that half of them had
deliberately sought detention to avoid paying fines for overstaying or
for flight home.
That is a disgraceful exploitation of the system but it should not
distract from Saquib’s case. His death needs to be investigated; the
allegations may be true, they may be exaggerated. While the story
remains uninvestigated it has the potential to damage the country’s
reputation. There is a human tragedy here that should never have happened.
The allegations are potentially damaging to India’s reputation too. The
Indian Embassy says that it is doing everything to help detainees but
that is not the perception among the Indian community. There are
allegations from community workers that coordination between the
embassy’s welfare department and the Saudi authorities in charge of
deportations have broken down. A petition calling on India to intervene
has been sent to the minister for overseas Indian affairs in Delhi.
Illegal immigrants and overstayers have to be sent home. But the process
needs to be as rapid as possible. There has to be confidence that it
works — and works humanely.