» 11/15/2013 18:39

Saudi Arabia uses iron fist to quell migrant workers unrest
Approximately 23,000 Ethiopian workers hand themselves into police custody after five deaths and hundreds of arrests. Clashes began in Riyadh after police begin detaining illegal immigrants. Some 2 million foreigners are expected to leave.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - About 23,000 Ethiopians surrendered to Saudi authorities after a clampdown on illegal migrant workers began in the oil-rich kingdom last week. According to Saudi police, the clashes that followed left at least five people dead (three Saudis, one Sudanese and one Ethiopian). On Sunday, Ethiopian diplomatic sources said that three Ethiopian citizens had been killed.

Unrest broke out on Wednesday in Riyadh's Manfuhah district, one of the capital's poorest neighbourhoods, home to many immigrants. The disturbances began when migrants started protesting against a nationwide government crackdown on foreign workers following the end of an amnesty a few weeks ago.

Yesterday Ethiopian migrants blocked traffic in the capital, hurling stones and other objects at police and bystanders. Police arrested 561 rioters and at least 70 people were injured. Five people also died but their nationality has yet to be determined.

In response to Ethiopian complaints, Riyadh governor Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz said the crackdown was aimed at illegal migrants, not any "specific group".

"We will continue these campaigns until we ensure all residents in our country are staying legally," he is quoted as saying.

Launched at the start of the year, the removal of illegal immigrants was suspended for few months to allow millions of immigrants living in the kingdom to legalise their position by 3 November. So far, four million migrants were given work permits for jobs that often entail inhuman conditions.

According to Saudi officials, the removal of illegal immigrants is needed to cut the unemployment rate among native Saudis, which stands at 12 per cent. The government wants to have companies hire at least one Saudi per ten foreigners - too often foreigners are preferred by Saudi employers because they can be kept in quasi slave conditions.

The labour correction campaign is expected to end in the exodus of at least 2 million workers. Many of them - Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis - have already left the country in the past three months.

More than 30,000 Yemenis have reportedly crossed to their home country in the past two weeks.

Fadal Abu Ainain, an economist and adviser for several private companies, told ArabNews that the campaign has created "a huge vacuum", which "will see the need for companies to hire local workers" since "inspection raids have left 20 percent of jobs vacant".

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