Thousands more arrested in Saudi Arabia

Thousands more foreigners were arrested in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday – Day Two of the kingdom's "all-out" campaign to get rid of undocumented expatriate workers. 

The Jeddah-based Arab News reports:

"Officials of labour and interior ministries said they recorded arrests in Makkah, Madinah, Riyadh, Taif, Hail, Jazan, Qassim, Najran and Asir.

"In Jazan alone, law enforcing agencies arrested more than 8,000 illegal expats and deported 3,000 illegals to Yemen over a 24-hour period, according to Frontier Guard sources.

"Special Forces for Road Safety and the Department of Criminal Investigation in Madinah took about 720 illegals into custody, according to Madinah police chief Maj. Gen. Saud bin Awad al-Ahmadi."

On the first day of the campaign about 5,000 men and women were rounded up, according to the authorities. 

The Saudi Gazette describes the extraordinary impact this is having on everyday life in the kingdom as expatriate workers who have been unable to regularise their status are deported en masse and others go into hiding.

Saudi expulsions crisis: full coverage

In Jazan province, next to the Yemeni border, about 60% of commercial shops, workshops, fruit and vegetable stalls were closed, the paper says. 

"Markets wore a deserted look, many commercial establishments and hospitals reported no-shows, shutters were down on many grocery stores and eateries, street vendors were nowhere to be seen. 

Customers were forced to fill grocery bags themselves at supermarket counters in the absence of expat workers who did this job.

A Saudi national in Jeddah summed up the scenario: "It seems that the country was full of violators. Shops are closed, streets are empty, restaurants are empty. I counted 30 cell phone shops on one street closed. God help us! Where are the citizens?"

In Jazan, a number of Saudis said that they had to go to their workplaces, wearing un-ironed thobe and headgear (shemagh) as most of the laundries remained closed. 

"There was no way for me to wear a washed and ironed thobe and shemagh as I saw doors of the laundry where I deposited my clothes closed without any notice," said Muhammad Qassem. 

Even the dead had to suffer. About 13 facilities for washing dead bodies were shut down in Jeddah due to the absence of workers. Those who wash dead bodies at these facilities are part-time workers who are scared of inspection raids.

Some expatriates who do have legal status in the kingdom are also worried about falling foul of the strict sponsorship rules. "Even legal workers are afraid to show up at the work site," a man who is having a new house built told Arab News. He said a subcontracted painter who is working legally for his sponsor’s paint shop didn’t turn up for fear of being caught working in a place other than his sponsor’s shop.

Saudis who employ undocumented workers face heavy fines and will also have to pay the deportation costs. Self-employed expatriates are required to pay for their own deportation, Arab News says.

One concern about this process is that it may lead to an increase in the already-prevalent ill-treatment of foreign residents by Saudi citizens. In an article for Al-Watan (translated in the Saudi Gazette) Ali al-Shuraimi writes:

Last week, we witnessed two shocking incidents that circulated on social media websites. They show the violence some people practice against expatriate workers. The first was a video clip showing youths beating up a gas station worker. The second showed a young Saudi man brutally beating up a cleaner. The two clips angered many people, who denounced these youths’ actions and demanded justice. They also demanded the worker’s dignity be restored, as they had left their country to earn a living ...

I ask: Where are the pertinent authorities that protect the rights of foreign workers and remind them of their duties? I say with all frankness: The main problem in our dealing with expatriate workers is the nonexistence of an independent and specialist rights institution that protects these workers’ rights, receives complaints and monitors the conduct and practices of some people who do not respect these workers’ rights ...

The mistreatment of foreign workers by some individuals in our society comes without any respect or realisation for the status of these societies' deep-rooted accomplishments in history and culture. This view of superiority has affected the methods we raise our children, as well as social upbringing in our societies. We then complain about workers escaping from our firms and homes.

Yesterday interior ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki questioned the authenticity of one of the videos which has been widely viewed on YouTube. It appears to show a migrant worker being beaten by a Saudi man.

Turki told CNN: "Nobody has actually reported this incident to the police yet ... and nobody has come to police claiming to be a victim of the abuse."

According to the Indian embassy, 134,281 Indians have now left Saudi Arabia and 1.4 million have regularised their status. The embassy added that there are currently more than 2.8 million Indians in the kingdom (this is far more than the 1.7 million estimate that I quoted in my blog post yesterday).

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 6 November 2013