By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Thousands of residents who were stranded abroad for the last eight months are now slowly trickling back into Kuwait. Many return to jobs and family but also problems that will plague them for months, possibly even years to come. While stranded abroad, these residents continued to hold apartments, and faced other financial responsibilities in Kuwait including loan and car payments. But most were not earning a salary. Now that they are back, many are confronting massive debts and landlords demanding urgent recompense for delayed payments.

Bako, a Nigerian resident, traveled home in January 2021 and was stuck there without a salary for most of the year. Upon his return, however, his landlord demanded immediate payment of back rent for all the months he was not in Kuwait.

"I am obliged to pay the whole eight months of unsettled rent during my absence. Its KD 1,600, because I pay KD 200 monthly for the flat. I told them I will settle the amount gradually. I'm broke since my company did not pay me when I was out of the country. How can you pay when you have no work, no money?" said Bako. "I told the haris (building caretaker) that I cannot pay immediately, so the next day I was slapped with a court case."

Luckily for Bako, the building owner agreed to a settlement. "Just yesterday, I was told by the haris that the building owner agreed to accept half of my eight months' back rent, which should be paid immediately. The remaining half can be settled gradually," he said. "I will go with this option since battling this situation in court will only prolong my agony. I will try to raise half of the rent by borrowing money from friends. I don't want another headache, as the building owner said he will remove the case the moment I settle half of my rental bill," he added.

Similarly, Hamad went to Cairo in March 2021 and didn't return to Kuwait until early September. "My building owner is a very understanding guy - he is a real Muslim. He has the sense of humanity in him. He told me I could pay half of my back rent - KD 100 per month. I was really thankful and agreed. I borrowed KD 600 from a friend and paid. What else could I do? I don't want to stay outside in this weather," he quipped. Hamad works as security guard in Kuwait City, earning KD 250 per month, but he was not paid during his absence.

An Indian from Kerala was thankful Kuwait did not revoke his visa during the eight months he was stranded abroad. "Thank God I don't have any issues with regards to the payment of my rent. I regularly paid my rent even while we were in India. I even renewed my children's visas online easily. I have three children and they were all with me and my wife. We left Kuwait in January 2021 for a family vacation. I thought we would come back soon, but we got stuck in India," he said.

The Indian resident runs a maintenance and cleaning business. "I worked from home when I was stuck in India. I have several clients who refused to pay when I was away, so my mission now is to get the payments for all the unpaid contracts. Some contracts were cancelled too. These are my struggles, but I believe they will be resolved now that I am here," he said.