Although the government has resumed international flights, many expatriate workers are facing difficulties in returning to Saudi Arabia due to the big gap between the demand for tickets and the frequency of flights.
A syndicate of travel agents and a section of officials of Biman Bangladesh Airlines are cashing in on this crisis and taking money from the workers in return for confirming their tickets back to the gulf country, several workers alleged.
Although officials of the national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines said re-issuing of return tickets will cost no extra money, the workers alleged that the syndicate was charging between Tk 10,000 and Tk 50,000 in exchange for issuing a return ticket.
However, Biman managing director and CEO said no agencies have permission to reissue tickets.
The cashing in on migrant workers’ panic persisted even as Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said the Saudi Arabia government has extended the validity of visa and iqama (residence permit) for Bangladeshi expatriate workers till October 30.
Workers and travel agency insiders said some agencies were working on social media in this regard to avoid detection.
They were operating not just in Dhaka, but some outside Dhaka have also been involved in such unethical activities, they said.
Around 55,000 Bangladeshi expatriates, after returning from Saudi Arabia on vacation, were stranded due to suspension of flights since mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Anisur Rahman, a migrant worker who lives in Keraniganj, said he recently got his return ticket re-issued with the help of a travel agency in Paltan.
“For this, I had to pay Tk 25,000,” Anisur told this newspaper on Monday.
Mahmudur Rahman, accounts and reservation officer of a travel agency at Paltan, said they facilitated the re-issuance of return tickets of Biman.
He said they took between Tk 35,000 and Tk 40,000 to reissue a return ticket.
A large part of the amount had to be paid to some officials, he claimed.
He added they reissue tickets through a section of officials of respective airlines.
Biman Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Mokabbir Hossain recently told the media they were reissuing tickets to those who have return tickets for flights to Saudi Arabia.
He said no agency was given permission to reissue Biman tickets.
Any passenger can avail the facility free of cost from Biman’s sales centres, said Mokabbir, adding if someone does this in exchange for money, it is completely illegal.
“We will identify them and take legal actions against them,” he added.
Currently, only Biman and Saudia, the national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, are operating direct flights to Saudi Arabia from Bangladesh.
Biman is operating nine and Saudia 10 flights a week.
Also, both the airliners are reissuing return tickets only and decided against issuing new tickets for the time being.
SAUDI ARABIA EXTENDS VISA AND IQAMA VALIDITY
The foreign minister said Bangladesh Ambassador in Saudi Arabia Mohammad Javed Patwari yesterday told him about extending the validity of visa and iqama for Bangladeshi expatriate workers till October 30.
On September 23, the foreign minister said the Saudi Arabia government has agreed to extend visas for Bangladeshis who returned home on holiday but could not go back to the kingdom due to the pandemic.
He said that all the migrants stranded here would be allowed to go to Saudi Arabia.
The validity of the permits could be extended further if needed, he said.