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Saudi Arabia – Illegal immigrants rounded up

06 November 2013

Saudi authorities rounded up thousands of illegal foreign workers at the start of a nationwide crackdown, ultimately aimed at creating more jobs for locals, reports The Lebanon Daily Star. This round-up follows the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of workers who already left the kingdom during the seven month amnesty.

During the amnesty period, illegal workers were advised by the government to rectify their illegal status, leave the country, or face jail. The government hopes that reducing the number of illegal workers will create more job opportunities for Saudi job-seekers. The official unemployment rate of the kingdom is 12%, however this figures is not inclusive of a large number of citizens that report they are not looking for work.

Nawaf al-Bouq, a police spokesman told the Saudi Gazette: “Since early [Monday] morning, the security campaign got off to a vigorous start as inspectors swung into action.”

Police carried out raids on businesses, markets, and residential areas to catch expatriates whose visas are invalid because they are not working for the company that sponsored their entry into the kingdom. On Tuesday, the street of capital Riyadh were unusually empty as many expatriates stayed at home to avoid potential arrest.

Mr al-Bouq told the newspaper that at least 1,899 illegal workers had been arrested in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. The paper also advised that police had arrested at least 2,200 people in the south-western city of Samta, 379 in the Eastern Province, and hundreds in other cities around the country.  

In Jeddah, dozens of Indonesian workers, mostly women staged a sit-in protest to pressure the authorities to hasten their deportation. Many of the workers are unable to leave the country as they do not have the required documents; such as a passport.

The impact on foreign countries following the raids will be significant. Remittances sent home by expatriates are often vital to the economies of Yemen, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia’s mass expulsion of Yemeni workers in 1990, in retaliation for their support of Iraq after it invaded Kuwait, is believed to have been a contributing factor to an economic collapse that accelerated the impoverished Arabian country’s civil war in 1994.  

The push to increase the availability of jobs for Saudis may not have the desired effect. The majority of Saudi Arabia’s nine million foreign workers are unskilled labourers or domestic workers. Roles that have been traditionally shunned by native Saudis. Most Saudis are in government jobs and employers in the private sector employ more foreigners than locals, making increasing private sector employment a significant challenge.       

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