Saudi Arabian domestic worker contracts must be insured, ministers say

There are more than 3.5 million foreign domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi Arabian domestic worker contracts must be insured, ministers say

  • Recruitment companies must pay insurance for first 2 years of contract
  • Insurance is optionally paid by employer if they extend work visa

RIYADH: Recruitment companies must carry the cost of insuring the contracts of domestic workers they bring into the country for the first two years, the Saudi Council of Ministers has decreed.

After the initial two years, the insurance is optional for the employer upon renewing the residency of the worker, the ministers decided at a session on Tuesday headed by King Salman, SPA reported.

The insurance covers the rights of both the employer and the worker in the event they refuse to continue to work or do not complete the period of the contract, Saudi Gazette reported.


Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens

Updated 22 min 14 sec ago

Algeria closes airspace to Moroccan aviation as dispute deepens

  • Algeria late last month decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco

ALGIERS/CAIRO: Algeria’s supreme security council decided on Wednesday to close the country’s airspace to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft, the Algerian presidency said, less than a month after it cut diplomatic relations with the kingdom.
The decision came “in view of the continued provocations and hostile practices on the Moroccan side,” it said in a statement.
The closure also includes any aircraft carrying a Moroccan registration number, the presidency said after a meeting of the council.
There was no immediate Moroccan official response. A source at Royal Air Maroc said the closure would only affect 15 flights weekly linking Morocco with Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt.
The source described the closure as insignificant and said the relevant flights could reroute over the Mediterranean.
The airline gave no official comment on the Algerian decision.
Algeria late last month decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco, citing “hostile actions” from the Kingdom, referring mainly to comments made by Morocco’s envoy in New York in favor of the self-determination of the Kabylie region in Algeria.
Algiers also accused Rabat of backing MAK, a separatist group that the government has declared a terrorist organization. Authorities blame the group for devastating wildfires, mainly in Kabylie, that killed at least 65 people. MAK has denied the accusations.
Morocco said in response that Algeria was unjustified in cutting ties and its arguments were “fallacious and even absurd.”
The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since 1994 and Algeria has indicated it will divert gas exports from a pipeline running through Morocco, which was due to be renewed later this year.
Relations have deteriorated since last year, when the Western Sahara issue flared up after years of comparative quiet. Morocco sees Western Sahara as its own, but the territory’s sovereignty has been disputed by the Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed independence movement.

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

Updated 23 September 2021

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

  • Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”

PARIS: The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden got on the phone Wednesday to smooth things over.
In a half-hour call that the White House described as “friendly,” the two leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French fiercely objected when the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract worth billions.
The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling during his call with Macron.
In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence.”
So did Biden apologize?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, allowing that Biden did acknowledge “there could have been greater consultation.”
“The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.
The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.
In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
It was clear there is still repair work to be done.
The joint statement said the French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the statement said.
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn’t mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s comments were constructive at a moment when the US was trying to mend relations with France.
The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office had said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of trust,” with Macron being formally notified only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-US relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance — which has been dubbed AUKUS — wasn’t meant to freeze out other allies on Indo-Pacific strategy.
“During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European nations I should say — in the Indo-Pacific region,” Psaki said.
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

’Historic night’ as Somalia screens first film in 30 years

Somalian scriptwriter and actress Kaif Jama speaks to media representatives ahead of the first screening of Somali films at The Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu, on September 22, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

’Historic night’ as Somalia screens first film in 30 years

  • Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, with the national theater also hosting live concerts and plays, the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991

MOGADISHU: Somalia hosted its first screening of a movie in three decades under heavy security on Wednesday, as the conflict-ravaged country hopes for a cultural renewal.
Built by Chinese engineers as a gift from Mao Zedong in 1967, the National Theatre of Somalia has a history that reflects the tumultuous journey of the Horn of Africa nation.
It has been targeted by suicide bombers and used as a base by warlords.
And it has never screened a Somali film. Until now.
"This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people, it shows how hopes have been revived... after so many years of challenges," theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said before the screening.
"It's a platform that provides an opportunity to... Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly."
The evening's programme was two short films by Somali director IBrahim CM -- "Hoos" and "Date from Hell" -- with tickets sold for $10 (8.50 euros) each, expensive for many.
According to sources contacted by AFP, the evening passed off without any security incidents.
Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, with the national theatre also hosting live concerts and plays, the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991.
Warlords used the theatre as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by Al-Shabaab terrorists two weeks later.
The Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers entertainment evil.

After a painstaking restoration, the authorities announced plans to hold the theatre's first screening this week.
For many Somalis, it was a trip down memory lane and a reminder of happier times.
"I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the national theatre during the good old days," said Osman Yusuf Osman, a self-confessed film buff.
"It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start," he told AFP.
Others were more circumspect, and worried about safety.
"I was a school-age girl when my friends and I used to watch live concerts and dramas at the national theatre," said a mother-of-six, Hakimo Mohamed.
"People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished -- but now, I don't think it is so safe," she told AFP.
The jihadists were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago, but retain control of swathes of countryside.
Attendees had to pass through several security checkpoints before arriving at the theatre, inside a heavily guarded complex that includes the presidential palace and the parliament.
But for some, the inconvenience and the risks paled in comparison to the anticipation of seeing a film in a cinema after such a long wait.
"I was not lucky to watch live concerts and or movies in the theatre (earlier)... because I was still a child, but I can imagine how beautiful it was," NGO employee Abdullahi Adan said.
"I want to experience this for the first time and see what it's like to watch a movie with hundreds of people in a theatre."

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Updated 22 September 2021

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

  • Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the UN General Assembly
  • In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision

UNITED NATIONS: The new rulers of Afghanistan have an uphill battle in their efforts to be recognized in time to address other world leaders at the United Nations this year.
The Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, according to a letter sent to the United Nations.
The decision now rests with a UN committee that generally meets in November and will issue a ruling “in due course,” the General Assembly’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
UN officials are confronting this dilemma just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power by taking over territory with surprising speed as US forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.
In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Letters from Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, who represents the former government, and from Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi, are before the committee, assembly spokeswoman Monica Grayley said.
“Only the committee can decide when to meet,” Grayley said.
The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
Afghanistan is listed as the final speaker of the ministerial meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, and if there no decision by then, Isaczai, Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, will give the address.
When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
The Taliban have said they want international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the United Nations. Several of the interim ministers — including Muttaqi — are on the UN’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.
Credentials committee members could also use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls who were barred from going to school during their previous rule, and women who weren’t able to work.
The Taliban said they were nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the UN spokesman said. He has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

  • While Saudi Arabia has scrapped the controversial labor laws, Duterte says millions of OFWs continue to work in ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions elsewhere

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has renewed his call for the abolition of the kafala or sponsorship system in Gulf countries, saying it was “unjust” and permits the “exploitation” of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

 In his speech at the 76th UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Duterte, who has advocated against the kafala system at the UN for much of his career, maintained that “nothing can justify its continued existence.”

The kafala gives employers in GCC countries plus Jordan and Lebanon almost complete control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status and generally binds them to one employer.

 In 2009, Bahrain became the first GCC country to abolish the kafala system, followed by Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

 “Millions of Filipinos work abroad under the most difficult and inhumane circumstances. We call for the abolition of all structures that allow the exploitation and oppression of migrant workers,” Duterte said.

 “The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate, and the voiceless to an existence of unimaginable suffering. While reforms have been made, the kafala system must be dismantled — sooner rather than later — in the name of justice and basic decency,” he added.

 Under the controversial system, migrant workers must have a sponsor in the host country for a visa or worker’s permit to be issued.

 Duterte has previously said that the system led to “inhumane working conditions, nonpayment of wages, movement restrictions, healthcare denial, and sexual abuse of overseas Filipino workers.”

 In March, the Philippines welcomed the Kingdom’s move to end the notorious sponsorship system and replace it with new measures to ensure migrant workers in the private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave Saudi Arabia without their employers’ consent.

The labor reforms will also allow OFWs to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Dexter Garcia, a former OFW who spent a decade working as an office staff member with the Saudi Turf Company, returned to the Philippines in November last year, a few months before the Kingdom’s new laws became effective on March 14.

He said while he had “heard many stories of abuse, that was all in the past.”

“Before I left the Kingdom after my contract with my company ended last year, things were already starting to change. The Saudi government was already starting to relax the kafala,” he told Arab News.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, as of January 2020, there are an estimated 2,221,448 Filipinos in the Middle East.