IT’s the Age of Social Media and we all feel that we can contribute to improving the world by simply sending out our thoughts and suggestions as a WhatsApp post or tweet. There! Our work is done, conscience is clear and we believe all’s well with the world. Whereas, the real work gets done by other heroines and heroes who put in the sweat and slog to find a happy ending amidst the detritus of the sad lives of strangers.
Often we think of bureaucrats in the immigration department of countries as the blockers who don’t allow people to come in or leave the country, but statements by immigration official and a member of the national human rights NGO in the GDN last week showed how even government can be seeded with kind intentions and helpful individuals.
The elderly expats who were stranded in Bahrain due to business failure, ill-health and, in one case, a cheating boss who stole his identity, have all found a channel of help in the corridors of the immigration department where there is a fully-fledged department to help them, with the support of the National Institution for Human Rights.
Can you imagine the pain of a man who has been trapped in a faraway country for two decades because of memory loss? The agony of a family whose 79-year-old parent has been stranded here because of business losses and debts? They are among the many who have been helped to return home, if not to start afresh then at least to live out their sunset years in peace.
As NPRA director Nayef Ahmed Al Sheroogi pointed out, people unnecessarily complicate their situation by not seeking official help. The fear of law and of people in authority makes them turn to middlemen and often, these people unscrupulously take money from them in return.
However, it is a fact that the authorities too have not done enough to reach out to the public and tell them their options. Until we read about these stories and how the immigration authorities helped them, how many of us knew that there was a department in government dedicated to helping people with travel bans and other immigration issues?
We see the huge sign of the Expat Protection Centre on our way to Isa Town but always associate it with runaway domestic workers or victims of domestic abuse. So many horror stories of people living in airless shacks in the heat of summer because they were homeless could have been avoided if they had known of this publicly funded shelter for all such distressed expats.
I believe that if the NIHR displayed mandatory posters in all embassies about their facilities and had a dedicated helpline and if immigration authorities brought the many NGOs working with expats together for awareness campaigns on the ways in which official help is available for such cases.
Such awareness-raising will cut the channels to exploitative middlemen and make official support more effective.
While we are at it, can we not get professional counsellors and human rights NGOs to give volunteers in community organisations regular crash courses in supporting people in distress, spotting signs of depression or suicidal tendencies and advising on financial management, which is the second most cited reason for problems after loneliness and family alienation. After all, these volunteers are the community foot-soldiers, our first line of defence against needless suicides and unhappiness. They come with big hearts and good intentions to their supportive efforts but need at least some semi-professional training to equip them for the emotional challenges of the work.