19 February 2008
Cairo – A Saudi-based website aims to stir hatred against 1.2 million Bangladeshis working in the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Under http://www.antirat.com the website features page after page of alleged crimes and misdemeanours committed by Bangladeshi labourers documented with photographs, ranging from the serious “rape and running prostitution ring” to the frankly ridiculous “unhygienic cooking” practices.
A plethora of crimes have been compiled from articles said to have been published in Saudi newspapers, and the site is regularly updated with the most recent article published on the website on Monday.
The regularity of the update seems to indicate that the website owners are trying to prove that Bangladeshi workers are breaking the law almost on a daily basis.
The most-read article on the website has six photographs of policemen and alleged offenders with captions.
In the first photo a man wearing the traditional Arab headgear and robe is standing in front of rows of shelves with detergents – apparently in a shop – and seizing the head of a man sitting on the floor.
The caption reads: “Crime no 1: Riyadh police catches a Bangladeshi in possession of 2,800 fake international phone cards.”
“A Bangladeshi was arrested during a security raid in Riyadh while trying to run away after seeing the police. After he was arrested and searched, a piece of gold was seized, which is likely to be stolen,” another caption reads.
A photograph of two men preparing food has the caption: “Workers from Bangladesh are preparing Ramadan meals in an unhygienic way and food that is gone off in their homes.”
The above acts are listed in the article under “The most atrocious crimes of Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”
The selling of sexual stimulants, possession of occult talismans, rape and having sex with Indonesian maids are other examples cited in articles incriminating Bangladeshis.
With a reported 80,000 hits in two weeks the website seems to be succeeding in drawing a big following. The aim is to encourage readers to pressure the Saudi authorities to expel Bangladeshis and fingerprint them in case they try to re-enter on false passports.
Three Saudis, who keep their identities secret, have reportedly launched the online campaign under the motto “No to depravity: Together against the depraved Bangladeshi workforce in our country.”
Another of the most popular articles on the website purports to be from the daily Saudi newspaper al-Jazeera. It shows official statistics revealing the high criminality among Bangladeshis.
“Raids by police targeting offending workers in many parts of the kingdom showed that the highest number of violations have been recorded by Bangladeshi labourers,” the article states.
Bangladeshis, according to the same article, have also been involved in 114 cases of homosexuality, a crime punishable by death under the strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, enforced in Saudi Arabia.
“In every community there are criminals. This is an organized hate campaign against our labourers,” M Shah Allam Bakshi, an economic minister at Bangladesh’s embassy in Riyadh, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The embassy would officially ask the Saudi government to stop the propaganda on the website, the diplomat said. But he refrained from criticizing the media from which the website is drawing the material for its campaign.
Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council has recently debated the issue. Labour Minister Ghazi al-Gosaibi reportedly said his ministry was working hard to limit the number of Bangladeshi workers in the country.
Millions of low-paid workers from south Asia are fuelling the booming economies of the oil-rich Arab countries. In the absence of local laws and unions that protect labour rights and set minimum wages, cases of abuse of Asian workers are commonplace.
The most common complaints among Bangladeshi workers are very low wages and employers defaulting on payment or delaying it, Bakshi said.