125,000 Myanmar refugees granted legal residency

A passport officer records biometric details of a Burmese child.

A passport officer records biometric details of a Burmese child.

More than 125,000 refugees from Myanmar have been issued four-year resident permits, clarifying the status of more than half of the 250,000-strong Burmese community currently living in the Kingdom.

The permits were issued by the Passport Department in the Makkah province. Permits for the remaining refugees are currently being processed.

The government began correcting the legal status of refugees from Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) two years ago, and the UN has applauded the efforts as a pioneering move by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government said it issued the free resident permits to the Myanmar refugees on humanitarian grounds, irrespective of race, religion or language.

“Those who obtain resident permits will be qualified to receive free medical treatment and school education as well as jobs,” said an informed source, requesting anonymity.

The head of the correction committee, Col. Mohammed Maqbool, and spokesman for the Passport Department in the Makkah region, Col. Mohammed Al-Hussain, both spoke about the measures taken to legalize the status of refugees.

“Resident permits are issued following a series of measures. First, we make sure they have not involved in any criminal activity,” Maqbool said. “Second, we collect their personal information by asking them to fill the necessary forms. Third, we ask them to present medical fitness certificates.”

Residency applicants need an attested document from the Labor Office to prove they are working for a company.

If they are working for an individual, they should meet the necessary requirements in terms of financial capability and number of family members.

“If the applicant’s identity is unknown and there is no information about him or her in the Interior Ministry’s computer system, basic information about them is recorded in the system along with information about the sponsor before issuing the four-year resident permit,” Maqbool said.

Refugees whose identity is confirmed by documents and their data is recorded in the department’s computer system will undergo background, police and security checks.

According to the department, if their checks are clear, refugees will have their sponsorship transferred to a new employer and they will receive a four-year resident card.

A delegation from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) visited the Kingdom recently to study the Saudi experience in formalizing the residential status of refugees from Myanmar.

The UN team described the Kingdom’s experience with the Burmese community as a model that could be used by other countries.

The acting regional representative of UNHCR in the GCC, Nabil Othman, said he appreciated Saudi Arabia’s efforts to rectify the residential status of thousands of Myanmar refugees.


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