AN iconic Bahraini village known for its historic burial mounds and traditional pottery has allegedly become a haven for drugs, bootlegging, prostitution and pornography.
A’ali municipal councillor Abdulla Al Ashoor blames the apparent rise in criminal activity on an influx of Bangladeshi residents, saying the village had become known among locals as “Bengali A’ali”.
The term is a play on the phrase Bengali Gali, the name used for an area of Manama that has become home to thousands of Asian expatriates.
“At least 600 Bangladeshis gather, mainly during the evenings and until late, in the heart of the village near A’ali Grand Mosque,” said Mr Al Ashoor.
“I understand it has now become their home, but with hundreds of them there, things start to get scary.
“Several women take other routes and parents have instructed their children not to pass by.
“It all happened when some (Bahraini) residents moved out of A’ali and rented their old homes to large numbers of Bangladeshis, who just mushroomed.
“Now up to 20 (Bangladeshi tenants) at a time share one room, rather than 10 a year ago.”
He said the influx of Bangladeshis had prompted the launch of new businesses to cater to their needs, such as restaurants, phone services, greengrocers, satellite repair shops and barbers.
Mr Al Ashoor added it was common to find foreign men grouped together playing table games, watching large displays, chatting or browsing the wares of vendors in the street.
However, he said the main problem was that criminal elements had also infiltrated the village.
“The merchandise being sold is unfit for human consumption,” he said.
“Drugs and other substances are sold, there is bootlegging and runaway housemaids are brought for group prostitution.
“This is in addition to gambling and hashish smoking gatherings.
“There are also incidents in which one of the homes is turned into a cinema for pornographic movies and others living nearby are invited to enter for cheap prices.”
The councillor said raids had already been carried out by authorities earlier this year, with the Health Ministry, Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry, Northern Governorate, police, the Northern Municipality and the Labour Market Regulatory Authority all allegedly aware of the issue.
However, he said problems persisted.
“It was excellent (when the raids were conducted) and it brought peace, but only for two weeks,” said Mr Al Ashoor.
“After that the place returned back to being Bengali A’ali.”
He said people did not object to expats moving into the neighbourhood, but drew the line at the apparent rise in criminality.
“Just to clarify things, we are not against Bangladeshis because of their nationality,” he said.
“They, like any other expatriate in this country, are respected. It is just that most of those who occupied A’ali are on the wrong path and are giving the wrong impression.”
He added that everyone should come closer towards resolving the matter and restoring calm.
Mr Al Ashoor said talks could even take place between leaders of the Bangladeshi community in A’ali and Bahraini residents to reach a compromise, but added any illegal resident should be handed over to authorities.
“I have been told the Bangladeshis have leaders within their ranks and are willing to sit with residents to reach an agreement on respecting each other,” he said.
“Everyone wants to reach a satisfactory solution, but those in the Bangladeshi community who are free visa workers (operating illegally on black market visas) or otherwise breaking the law have to be handed over to the authorities concerned.”