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Kuwait: Boss refuses to hand over Colombian’s passport but officials help end expat’s ordeal
rahul | September 13, 2008 at 04:31 pmby
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KUWAIT CITY, Sept 12: Imagine being in a place where your country has no diplomatic relations and unexpectedly find yourself in trouble with your employer... all because you refuse to hand over your passport. A Colombian national working for a car armoring company never had any inkling that he would one day get into trouble for refusing to hand his passport to his employer. Thirty year old Jimmy Alexander Cuellar Pineda, a native of Bogota, an armored car technician was among a group of seven Colombians hired in their country to work in Kuwait; arriving in the country in early 2006. “Everything went well at first. After one year, I asked and was allowed to go for three months leave to visit my family, especially my 10-year old daughter who I am very fond of,” says Jimmy in a recent interview with the Arab Times. After almost a year and a half since he came back from vacation, business dwindled down and there was not much work to be done and according to Jimmy, he told his boss he would like to go on leave. But his employer reportedly told him he needs him around as he expects new orders coming in. Co-workers “As there was no work to be done, our Filipino co-workers would spend most of their time playing basketball while the rest of us would try to find anything to do to keep from being bored,” says Jimmy. Weeks and months went by and still nothing happened so he approached his boss once more but this time, not to go on holiday but to leave for good. He said his employer tried to persuade him to stay as his services will be needed, again with the same excuse that new orders will be coming in shortly, but he said he has already made up his mind. In early morning of Friday, August 1, he said his boss came to the house where he was staying in Qurtoba and asked for his passport. When he asked what for, he was told all employees’ passports must be deposited with the company but he refused, telling his boss, “I have to hold on to my passport as we have no embassy here. Besides, I had this with me ever since I arrived in this country and you did not require me then to hand it over, why only now,” he reportedly told his boss who immediately left. Later that day, he said he got a call from a Filipino friend inviting him for lunch at a Filipino restaurant in downtown Kuwait City but when he was about to leave, found the doors locked. At this, he called an Indian national working in the house and asked why the doors were locked and to open it because he was going out. The guy told him it was his employer’s order to lock the door. He then said he called up his boss to ask why he was being locked inside the house and his boss reportedly asked him where he was going and told him to wait as he would come by to take him there. After about an hour, his boss arrived with the company “mandoob” or liaison officer and they drove him to the downtown restaurant where his Filipino friend was waiting but his boss reportedly told him he could be planning something with his friend and again asked for his passport-adamantly, this time but he still refused. Then his boss told him to get back in the car and they drove to a nearby police station in Salhiya. At the station, the mandoob got down and went inside while he and his boss waited in the car. The latter reportedly asked him if he was not afraid of the police to which he replied he was not because he has done nothing wrong. After a while, the mandoob came back and they all went inside the station and while waiting for someone, his boss again asked that he hand over his passport but he still refused. Then, the mandoob returned and escorted them to an office where a police official waited. The official, who he said spoke just a little English, reportedly asked him if he knows Arabic and he replied no. Passport
Then, he said his boss and the police official talked to each other and saw the former take out a business card and handed it to the latter. Afterwards, the police official, in broken English asked to see his passport. He said he handed it to the official who, after some cursory look returned it to him. Apparently, the officer was aware that it was prohibited to take a foreign national’s passport from him. Instead, the official persuaded him to give the passport to his employer telling him it was alright and that it was common practice for employers to hold these for safekeeping purposes. “Under pressure at the time, I reluctantly obliged,” Jimmy recounted. After that, his employer let him go but instead of returning to his place, wary that he might be locked in again, he decided to go somewhere else and called a friend who got him in touch with people from the diplomatic community who readily extended their help upon learning of his travails; these good Samaritans also helped him get in touch with his country’s nearest diplomatic mission which was in Beirut, Lebanon. “I also called my company in Colombia to apprise them of my problem and they said they will try to contact the nearest Colombian embassies in the region, in Cairo and in Beirut, to extend whatever assistance to me,” Jimmy said. The Colombian Embassy in Beirut reportedly told him they could issue him a new passport and send it to him immediately. But, he said, without a residence stamped, a new passport would be useless and he still would not be able to leave Kuwait, leaving him in a quandary. His benefactors did not abandon him. They put him up in a safe place in comfortable quarters and took care of his personal needs as well. Not only that, they brought his case to the attention of UN agencies which then contacted local officials to apprise them of his situation. Because of it, he received a call from his employer asking him to report to the company to talk things over amicably. Wary but with the assurance of his “new” friends, he went to see his employer. On their meeting, his employer reportedly told him there was no need to take the issue up with authorities, and that he can leave anytime but must submit his resignation letter first as a pre-requisite to cancel his residence. He then left to prepare the resignation letter and sent it by courier right after. But half an hour later, he got a call from his boss’ secretary informing him they have not received it.
He said he immediately called one of his one friends at the company, his supervisor and compatriot who advised him to email his resignation letter to him and he would be the one to take it to their boss. Resignation
Two days went by before he received a call from the secretary that they already have his resignation letter but that he should come to affix his signature.
“I immediately went to our office and after signing the resignation letter, my boss told the secretary to give me money, about ten days worth of pay which I said, I do not really need but my passport,” says Jimmy. His employer reportedly then told him to sign a document written in Arabic but he politely refused, saying he could not sign anything that he does not understand, and asked to be excuse for a while, taking the paper with him. He said he called up an Arab friend who came after about two hours and after reading the paper said it was alright to sign it, as it was only a requirement before his residence will be cancelled. He said his boss angrily asked him where he went and why it took him so long just to sign the paper. Afterwards, he was told that in three days time, the mandoob will accompany him to the shoun for the cancellation of his residence. That day came and this time, his residence was finally cancelled but still, his employer would not give him back his passport. It was only after two weeks that he was finally able to get hold of his passport but not before pressure was exerted on his employer by a high ranking government official after calls from the Colombian government that it would lodge a protest with the Kuwaiti government over the treatment of one of their nationals, and from two UN agencies in Kuwait. “I could not remember of any problem whatsoever, that I may have had with my employer or my co-workers,” Jimmy said during the interview with the Arab Times at an undisclosed place a couple of weeks before his ordeal came to an end when he was finally able to leave the country through the help of good Samaritans. After thanking his benefactors and everyone who helped in his case, Jimmy Alexander Cuellar Pineda finally left Kuwait last Friday, Sept 5 taking with him unpleasant memories of his ordeal. By Boie Conrad Dublin, Arab Times Staff