Clampdown on overcrowded houses: Over 6000 arrested

Business Monday 09/September/2019 22:40 PM
By: Times News Service
Muscat: Nearly 7,000 single expatriate workers were arrested in the first quarter of 2019 for labour violations, including living in residential areas.

Oman’s Ministry of Manpower regularly sends out inspection teams to investigate instances of labour rule breaches or to find workers who have been reported as absconding, leading to 6,940 expats being arrested in the first three months of 2019.

According to Salim Al Badi, the Directorate General of Labour Care at the Ministry of Manpower, “The experts at the inspection team get complaints of labour violations or absconding workers living in residential neighbourhoods. We coordinate with the authorities and undertake field visits according to the law after we investigate.

“This has led to 6,940 expats being arrested in Oman in the first quarter of 2019, 2,644 of whom were arrested in residential areas in Muscat,” he added. “These indicators show that we must find methods to house expat workers away from residential areas, such as building full labour cities that have all the necessary facilities all over Oman’s governorates.”

In addition to the practice of single expat workers living in residential neighbourhoods being illegal, they may, unfortunately, disturb the peace while staying there. Muhsin Al Sheikh, head of Muscat Municipality, said:

“Housing single expat workers is behind some of the harmful phenomena that can be seen by society and the municipality.

“The Department of Urban Inspections has confirmed that single expats living in residential neighbourhoods leads to many violations such as the use of houses and residential apartments for illegal food businesses, preparing food in unhygienic environments, and using the house or apartment for businesses such as warehouses or making furniture, which makes the environment around the housing ripe for health risks,” he added.

In some cases, as many as 50 expatriate workers may live together in one house, forcing them to stay in cramped quarters, and Hilal Al Sarni, who is the Majlis Al Shura member of Al Seeb, has been sometimes asked to intervene in such cases.

“I have seen some cases where there were around 50 expats living in one small house meant for a family, and we have seen the consequences of this sort of behaviour in society in terms of other municipal contraventions and even the cases of files at the Royal Oman Police,” he revealed.

“There are people who are suffering to a great degree because of these cases, and I have stepped in myself in a number of them.”

“There are people who take advantage of the residential situation in order to make an extra living, at the expense of society around them,” said Al Sarni, speaking about those who would rent to single expat workers. “We need to make people understand that their actions hurt society. The owner of the building must also be punished because it is his residence that he rented without a contract.”

Yaqoob Al Amri, an Omani citizen in Al Sharaiga neighbourhood in Al Seeb, said: “We have suffered a great deal because some people rent their homes illegally rather than let them stay empty for a short time, even though it makes the neighbourhood less attractive in general.

“We have some expat workers who harass the women and children, and in one case a young girl was chased in an alleyway by an expat worker, according to what she told us,” he added. “We’ve also seen an uptick in thefts in the area, as well as people loitering around the mosques. Our neighbourhood is now known as an expat area rather than an Omani one”.

The municipality is working towards tracking down cases like these in Muscat and punishing them for the municipal violations themselves, rather than other related lawbreaking.

According to Khalid Al Rahbi, the head of the urban inspection department at the municipality, “Article 134 of municipality regulations dictates for a fine of between OMR5 and 10 for every day of the violation, as well as a jail sentence with a maximum period of six months. These cases are apparent not only in Muscat, but in all of Oman, including areas close to the borders”.

A municipal official from Al Buraimi Governorate told Times of Oman, “People in Al Buraimi are suffering because of these contraventions, since the workers who live there also commit crimes on occasion and so make the area feel unsafe. We want to be able to actively search out cases where there are illegal housing agreements.

“This is only when there are single expat workers living in residential buildings. If you are an expat family and there is a contract for you, you are more than welcome to live there,” he added. “The situation has become so bad that citizens who have lived in a neighbourhood all their lives are now leaving it, sometimes even when they cannot truly afford to.”