Migrant workers clash with Saudi police over deportations, 2 killed
Security forces in riot gear fired shots into the air and used nightsticks to disperse the crowds of men who had barricaded themselves in the narrow streets of the Manfuhah neighborhood of southern Riyadh on Saturday evening.
The protesters engaged in running streets battles with police, throwing stones and other objects at officers and nearby vehicles, witnesses told Reuters. Police said the rioters attacked Saudis and other foreign expats with rocks and knives.
Saudi Arabia’s official press
agency said 561 rioters were detained following the violence and
68 people were injured, including 28 Saudis and 40 foreigners.
Two people were killed, including a Saudi national and an
unidentified foreign worker.
The agency described the rioters as "anonymous" without
saying why they were rioting, AP reports.
Brig. Gen. Nasser al-Qahtani, however, said most of those involved in the violence were migrants who did not have valid work permits and were facing deportation.
Reuters described most of the foreign workers involved in the
clashes as looking African in appearance.
On Sunday, hundreds of illegal migrants turned themselves in to police following the deadly riots and subsequent intervention.
Men, women and children lined up with their belongings in hand to
board police buses transferring them to an assembly center before
being deportated, AFP reports.
Time's up on amnesty
Earlier this year, Saudi authorities said they would no longer ignore foreign workers who were violating the country’s visa rules by taking up employment in the country illegally.
Over the past seven months, Saudi authorities have offered foreigners an amnesty aimed at allowing illegal migrant workers the chance to correct their visa status without facing a penalty or without having to leave the country. The measure prompted an estimated exodus of 1 million foreigners, while nearly 4 million foreign workers managed to find an employer to sponsor them.
After the grace period expired November 3, thousands were reportedly arrested by inspection squads from the labor and interior ministries.
On Tuesday, parts of the capital were said to appear deserted as many foreign workers stayed inside to avoid arrest.
The following day, an Ethiopian was killed in a raid after he allegedly tried to grab policeman's weapon amid an ongoing government crackdown on illegal labor. On Saturday, the Ethiopian government said it was repatriating citizens who had failed to meet the amnesty deadline, citing reports of the Ethiopian man shot dead by police.
"They were trying to get them in the camp before repatriation and in that process... an Ethiopian has been killed with a police bullet, but we are verifying it," foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told AFP in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
'Flushing out the illegals'
Foreigners, primarily from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Yemen, account for one-third of the Kingdom’s population of 27 million.
Many migrants cannot leave the country because they are missing official papers, including passports, the Saudi Gazette reported earlier this week. An undocumented worker can be jailed for six months to a year and fined $3,200-$5,300.
Saudi authorities hope that by reducing the number of illegal workers, they will create more job opportunities for native job-seekers. Despite the country’s massive oil wealth, 12.5 percent of the country’s citizen population remains unemployed, AFP reports.
The majority of migrants, however, are unskilled laborers or domestic workers – jobs rarely taken up by Saudi nationals.
Saudi employers say
labor costs have surged following the crackdown, as the freelance
tradesmen who once loitered in the country’s public squares
looking for odd jobs have all but disappeared.
Saudi economists say the short-term problems currently affecting the labor market will be balanced out by the long-term benefits.
“The flushing out of illegals will ... help in controlling the gray economy,” AFP cited economist Bu Hulaiga as telling the Saudi daily Arab News.
A separate statement by Saudi economists and businessmen carried by the daily said the crackdown on illegal foreign workers would pay dividends in the future.
“The move will help eradicate the gray economy, besides creating more job and investment opportunities for young citizens,” the business group said.