Manama: In January 2011, Bahrain’s labour minister at the time warned against the massive presence of foreigners in the Gulf, saying that their social, cultural and political threats could be intensified by the private economy they set up.

“The number of foreigners in the region has been steadily increasing since the 1970s and particularly after the year 2000,” Majeed Al Alawi said.

“The presence of a high number of foreigners took a dangerous dimension a decade ago with the mushrooming of projects to have high-rise buildings and create amazing and strange islands. Many foreigners have come, have settled here and, in the process, have set up their own private economy. For instance, the laundry man looks after the clothes of the man who serves food to the man who sells mobile phones. It is a private economy by and for the foreigners settling here,” he said during a Bahrain TV talk show.

For the minister who has spearheaded a move to impose residency cap on foreigners to curb their growing presence in the Gulf, the presence of expatriates is no longer directly linked to the existence of massive projects.

“Even when the volume and frequency of construction work decreased, the number of foreigners was not really affected because they had created their private economy within our countries. The growth of such an economy is bound to cause huge problems in the future,” he said.

Bahrain has around 650,000 foreigners, slightly more than the native population. The figure is likely to increase with the implementation of more projects and new businesses.

Even if all unemployed people in Bahrain find jobs, there will be foreigners in the country, a fact that necessitates appropriate measures, Al Alawi said.

“We do support the rights of foreigners, but we need to be aware that the presence of more than 15 million expatriates in the Gulf countries is a serious threat to the local demography. Such a huge number is also a security threat.”

Al Alawi insisted on the need for drastic measures to make Gulf nationals a more attractive choice for employers. At the same time, Gulf nationals should also be encouraged to take up jobs in the private sector instead of focusing on working in the public sector.