Saudi Arabia in crisis over crackdown on migrant workers

Saudi Arabia in crisis over crackdown on migrant workers
Fri Nov 15, 2013 10:27:22

Grocery stores have shut their doors and almost half of Saudi Arabia’s small construction firms have stopped working on projects as a result of foreign workers deportation policy in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The mess is because foreign workers on which many businesses rely are fleeing, have gone into hiding or are under arrest amid a crackdown launched on November 4, targeting the kingdom’s 9 million migrant laborers.

With fewer people to do service jobs, the state-backed Saudi Gazette reported that 20,000 schools are without janitors. Others are without school bus drivers. Garbage became so noticeable around the mosque housing the Prophet Mohammad’s tomb that a top city official in Medina helped sweep the streets, the state-backed Arab News website reported.

About 40 per cent of small construction firms in the kingdom also have stopped work because their foreign workers couldn’t get proper visas in time, Khalaf Al Otaibi, president of the World Federation of Trade, Industry and Economics in the Middle East, told Arab News.

Saudis say dozens of businesses like bakeries, supermarkets, gas stations and cafes are now closed. They say prices have also soared for services from mechanics, plumbers and electricians.

Now, authorities say booting out migrant workers will open more jobs for citizens, at a time when unemployment among Saudis is running at 12.1 percent as of the end of last year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, the nationalist fervor driving the crackdown risks making migrant workers vulnerable to vigilante attacks by Saudis fed up with the seemingly endless stream of foreigners in their country.

Since the Saudi government began issuing warnings earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have been deported, though some were able to avoid arrest by getting proper visas in an amnesty program. That amnesty ended last week, and some 33,000 people have since been placed behind bars. Others have gone into hiding.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that if the kingdom wants to be serious about the problem, authorities should look at the labor laws and not at the workers.


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