Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A costly amnesty for Ethiopian expats?

Ethiopian illegal residents waiting to complete the paper work at their consulate in Dubai on Monday for seeking amnesty. — KT photos by Juidin Bernarrd
Some Ethiopian illegal workers say their consulate has charged them thousands of dirhams for an outpass allowing them to leave the UAE during a two-month amnesty without penalty — something the Consul-General puts down to confusion.

Ethiopian Consul-General Mesganu Arga Moach said the most it should cost anyone to leave the country was Dh78, if they already had a passport — though renewal would be another Dh300.

However, Ethiopian citizens spoken to by Khaleej Times say they had been asked to pay up to Dh4,000, including Dh550 for a bond to build a dam on the Nile river, Dh490 for passport renewal, Dh270 for a community card and Dh25 for typing.

Cargo company salesman Tsfy said he had paid US$500 in bond money, which was expected to be returned in five years’ time. He said he thought the consulate assumed Ethiopians based in the UAE were richer and could afford to pay a big bond.

One maid, Eddis Kebeedda, said she was so concerned about the high charges that she prefered to face police penalties for being an overstayer, rather than go through her government to leave during the amnesty.

Fellow maids Sara and Hadija said during the last amnesty in 2007, they got their passports and outpasses for free, but when this amnesty started, the consulate had decided to try to exploit it to make money.

Those who paid the money said they had done so out of their life savings and now would have to pay for their own tickets home.

But Moach categorically rejected the suggestion citizens applying for an outpass were being told to pay high bonds, saying officials at the consulate encouraged every citizen who visited to consider buying bonds — which would pay interest in line with the international LIBOR rate.

“This is an opportunity for everyone. We tell them to invest in their country, to do business, this is their responsibility...this doesn’t have any relation with the outpass or a passport.”

There may be “confusion” amongst people who thought the offer was compulsory, not voluntary.

“We just tell them if they don’t want to buy, it doesn’t have any relation with the outpass. We have been (promoting bond purchase) for the last three or four years.”

Bonds offered big advantages, allowing people to use them as collateral to start a small-scale business, he said.

“If there was a proper developed economy at home, people wouldn’t prefer to go overseas so we push them to remit their money properly (and support development projects).”

Doing everything to help amnesty seekers, Moach said the consulate was even waiving fees and funding air tickets in desperate cases.

“If they don’t have 78 dirham, we would have that payment...even we purchase the (air) ticket...if they have money and they wish to pay (they do, but) if they don’t have the capcacity to pay, we cover it.”

There was a background test used to determine the “very difficult issue” of a person’s means, which included looking at their job, pay, and family support, he said.

He said no one would have been asked to pay Dh4000, even with all the possible charges included. If a person had paid that much it would have been inclusive of the voluntary bond.

Ethiopian citizen Jemila Yasin, who worked for a private company in Dubai, was at the embassy supporting someone applying for an outpass. She said she knew people were asked to pay bonds of differing amounts, up to US$500, based on their financial means.

While there were no guarantees the money would be paid back in several years’ time, as anything could happen financially or a future government may not honour the scheme, people who could afford to buy bonds should do so, she said.

“For citizens you should because your government doesn’t get any money from anwhere. Of course, all the citizens do what they have to do.”

Between December 4, when the amnesty began, and January 23, 1,568 Ethiopians had applied for outpasses, Moach said, with 
the consulate dealing with about 300 people each day during the amnesty for a variety of matters.

Most simple cases were able to be processed in under an hour, though complicated cases where people did not have their passport or a copy, could take up to several days.

There had been fewer people than anticipated making use of the amnesty, Moach said.

“Frankly speaking, most of them use the opportunity. There maybe some still who escaped during the amnesty period...who don’t have money (for the outpass), who aren’t ready to go...those numbers may be quite small.”

Most of the amnesty cases were maids who had run away after being abused or unpaid, he said.