PEOPLE trapped in Bahrain under travel bans have been thrown a lifeline by immigration authorities, who have agreed to renew residency permits that will allow some to take on new jobs.
More than 4,000 people are banned from leaving Bahrain due to outstanding debts.
Their situation was compounded by the fact that their residence permits were not being renewed, meaning they could not get the jobs they needed to pay off loans or other outstanding bills.
However, the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs (GDNPR) has now announced that some would be granted valid identity cards and residence visas - meaning they could start working off their debts.
"The system was started up some time ago to allow those under travel bans to apply for residency visas, however only those with manageable cases will be considered," said GDNPR Under-Secretary Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa said yesterday.
"Those who are restricted from travelling because they hold a criminal record are not eligible to apply.
"It is open to those under financial disputes so that they can earn a living in Bahrain, pay off their debts and can eventually go home.
"We have set up a system where people under travel bans can explain their case and the directorate will look into it.
"It is very important that they have a chance to support themselves, as we do not want them to be stranded in Bahrain without being able to support themselves financially.
"That is not our policy for expatriates."
He said authorities were seeking to make the process of visa application easier for foreigners.
"The directorate is trying its best to make the process of issuing work visa, residence permit and visit visa easier by co-operating and co-ordinating with different people and related departments," he added.
"The directorate has no objection regarding renewing resident permits for foreigners who have cases at the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry regarding financial problems and it will allow them to move from one job to another if they want.
"The directorate's door is also open for any foreigner who is banned from travelling outside the country to come forward to the public relations department."
The news will be welcomed by travel ban victims, particularly those suffering under new regulations declared last week that state hospitals could not legally give out medicines to non-residents without valid residence documents.
Expatriates have been slapped with travel bans for failing to repay personal debts accrued with Bahraini or Bahrain-based financial institutions and creditors.
Gulf European Centre for Human Rights (GECHR) director general Faisal Fulad welcomed the move taken by the GDNPR.
"We welcome this move whole-heartedly, which reflects a new phase of engagement at a compassionate level between government and residents and look forward to future developments with enthusiasm," he said.
"The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society and the GECHR look forward to working together with immigration representative officials to review all cases of travel ban victims, which is a key issue of the Bahrain meeting, soon to take place in Geneva."
Those living under travel bans can call 17399764 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.