Con men prey on poor expats in Bahrain
Manama, June 8, 2014
Con men in Bahrain are stealing the identities of low-income expat workers and using them to run up debts, according to a foreign diplomat.
However, Pakistan Embassy community welfare attache Maqsood Shah said the unsuspecting victims only found out when they are prevented from leaving the country because of money owed in their names, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
He revealed the Pakistan Embassy had received more than 100 such cases in the past four months, most involving poor and illiterate expats who were exploited by people claiming to help them.
Shah explained the victims are tricked into handing over their CPR cards by people who promise them work, but who then use the documents to sign fixed contracts with a telecom company - allowing them to obtain expensive mobile phones at their victim's expense.
He said when the deals are not honoured, travel bans are imposed on the victims, who only find it out when they try to return home.
"The cases that we receive are more or less similar in nature - the men are poor, needy and illiterate," said Shah.
"They are lured by the promise of better jobs in return for their CPR cards, but these CPRs are then used to purchase high-end phones and make long-term business deals with telecom companies.
"Then the CPR cards are returned to their owners with the promise of a new job soon, but it is not until months or years later when these men reach the airport to go for a much-awaited holiday that they realise they are trapped.
"One man who approached us just days ago is a labourer, who earns a meagre BD30 ($79) per month, but the case against him is that he owes money for a gadget worth BD120.
"He is at a loss at the fact he can't go home for reasons totally beyond his understanding."
Shah said he visited the outlet where the labourer supposedly signed up for a phone contract.
"They showed me his CPR card as a supporting document, but agreed that they had not verified the identity of the client," he added. "Now there is no way to trace to person who tricked this poor man who is left to fight this legal hassle."
He claimed this was not an isolated incident and called on phone companies to conduct more thorough checks before entering contractual agreements with customers.
"They don't verify the identity of their customers prior to doing a business deal and, as a result, many innocent residents are stuck in the country while the real culprits walk scot-free," said Shah.
He revealed the embassy had written to Bahrain's Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa calling for the travel ban policy to be overhauled.
"People are misusing travel bans," he said.
"We have reports of employers using it against staff who demand their contract or passports, which are a basic right.
"We are not against the law or travel bans in particular, but we have urged the minister to consider categorising travel ban cases.
"It is unfair to treat people who owe BD100 the same as those who owe hundreds of thousands of dinars."
One telecom company contacted by the GDN pledged to investigate the issue.
However, Bahrain's travel ban policy has long been a source of concern for human rights campaigners and foreign diplomats.
The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society in February estimated that more than 3,000 expats were unable to leave the country due to travel bans, which are mainly imposed on those who owe money.
Many of those affected are unable to get work since their residency permits are not renewed, which compounds their situation as they are unable to earn money. - TradeArabia News Service