Saturday, November 03, 2012

Our lost families abroad: A call for action!

IN the last couple of weeks I have been contacted by readers from the Kingdom and all over the world. From what I have heard and read, it seems that my last two articles, about Saudi travelers’ secret marriages and the neglected children of Saudis who travel abroad have hit hot buttons. 
What I have found is that some marriages of Saudis to foreigners, secret and announced, here and abroad, are the source of much suffering. 
I have no way of verifying the accuracy of the stories I have been told, so I direct the mothers and children to the concerned governmental and non-governmental human rights and social services agencies. 

A mother of Saudi children asked me for advice and I suggested that she contact “Awasser,” a society sponsored by the Ministry of Social Affairs which attempts to find and support Saudi families and children abroad ( I also directed her to the Commission of Human Rights and the National Society for Human Rights  

The lady was not impressed. She complained that she had already tried her best to contact them, but to no avail. I hope it was just bad luck, and that she and others will be luckier in future attempts. 

I visited the “Awasser” website and found the English section unfinished and unhelpful. Even the “About” and “Message from the Chairman” were empty! The Arabic version, on the other hand, was informative. The promises are great. I hope and pray the delivery is as good. 

The human rights commissions’ websites are in Arabic only. What about the needs of foreigners who do not speak Arabic? There must be sections in the languages of major foreign communities such as Indonesian, Urdu, Swahili and Filipino. These websites could at least start with English!

I asked the distressed mom to tell me her story and here it is in summary: “I am a Western woman who chose to remain in Saudi Arabia after divorcing my problematic husband for the sake of my children, a boy and a girl.  I have lived here for 25 years devoting my life to the welfare of my autistic children who needed to remain here as this was the place they knew all their lives. 

“I have had no life other than the joy of being with my children who are now teenagers.  My sadness continues as my son is not functioning well and has numerous health problems. I spend every minute trying to make ends meet.

“Thank Allah that I have been given the strength to bear all of this entirely alone. But I am beginning to wonder how long my strength will remain as I am unwell and time is against me. I pride myself on being a woman of substance and utmost integrity knowing that will see me through until my age takes the upper hand.”

Like hers, there are many heartbreaking stories. Some involved Saudis who married abroad in semi-legal marriages. The wife, in such marriages, has no proof, as the only copy of the marriage contract is kept by the husband and is not registered officially.  

Usually, it is agreed that the couple will not have children. The marriage is kept low-profile and secret from the husband’s family in the Kingdom. 

Other than paying dowry and living expenses, and the irregular visits, there is not much commitment. 

After the death of a Saudi man, who was senile in the final years of his life, his children learnt that he had an Egyptian wife and children. The elder son went looking for them. He found that they had been evicted from their apartment for not paying the rent.

The neighbors told him how sorry their life had been. He went looking in every possible direction, following every lead, but could not find them. It seems that when his father fell ill with Alzheimer’s, he could not send them their allowance or tell his Saudi family about their existence. Worse yet, he had not given the Egyptian mother his contact address in Saudi Arabia.

I was told of similar or worse stories occurring in many places. They all have certain things in common: the irresponsibility of individuals, the absence of regulations and the lack of concern of institutions, including academia and the media. 

I call on the National Dialogue Center to take on the issue and to discuss it at its next annual conference. Participants should include the concerned departments in the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, justice, social affairs and higher education. The Shoura Council and media should follow up on this subject and call for action. 

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