Clashes between Saudi police and foreign nationals in Riyadh left a Sudanese man dead and 17 people injured during a crackdown on undocumented workers across the kingdom.
Fighting erupted between residents and expatriates in the capital’s Manfouha district,also the scene of violence last week, as rioters attacked cars and pedestrians with rocks, the official Saudi Press Agency said. Police set up a roadblock around Manfouha. Dozens of buses were parked on the roadside, many already filled with Ethiopians trying to leave the country.
Clashes in Manfouha, a neighborhood with a large Ethiopian population, started on Nov. 9 as authorities enforced measures against violators of labor laws. Two people were killed and 561 arrested during a day of violence. Since then, about 17,000 Ethiopians have surrendered to authorities in the capital, al-Riyadh newspaper said on Nov. 12.
Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, is taking action against illegal workers as it pushes to create more jobs for its citizens and stave off the unrest that has toppled leaders across the Middle East since 2011.
The jobless rate for Saudi workers is about 12 percent, according to official figures. Economic growth is forecast to slow to 4.2 percent this year, from 5.1 percent last year and 8.6 percent in 2011, according to a Bloomberg survey.
Taher Ali, a 25-year-old from Jimma in Ethiopia, said he’s been in the kingdom without work permits since sneaking across the border from Yemen three years ago. “I’ve been waiting to leave since the problems started,” he said, standing in threadbare clothes with a scarf wrapped round his head. “I took any job. I don’t know what I’ll do when I go back.”
Ali and several men sitting around him said they’d never come back to the kingdom. Some said that the deportation will be their first time on a plane.
A video posted on YouTube today showed hundreds of Africans marching through Manfouha. In Jeddah, police arrested 20 Ethiopians for leading “a mob” to attack the Deportation Center in the city, Arab News said.
“Saudi authorities are trying to prevent the emergence of ungovernable neighborhoods” populated by religious pilgrims who overstayed their visas and workers who entered illegally, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh advised employees and American citizens to avoid Manfouha because of the clashes.
An editorial in today’s al-Riyadh newspaper expressed support for the crackdown. “Most of those who have worked hard and started looking for jobs after graduation are unemployed because most jobs are taken by non-Saudis,” Turki Abdullah Al-Sudairi wrote.
At Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa yesterday, hundreds of young women in headscarves filled the car park after a plane from Saudi Arabia arrived. Medina Asemo, a 24-year-old, said she had spent three months in detention in Saudi Arabia with 200 other Ethiopians because of a disagreement with her sponsor. She had been employed for two months.
“I wanted to change houses,” she said in an interview outside the arrivals terminal, pushing an airport trolley stacked with blankets. “But they said either you stay or you go to prison.” Medina, who is from a village in southern Ethiopia, said she was given a ticket to go home this week.
Nearly 160,000 Ethiopian women went to work in Saudi Arabia in the 12 months through July 7 last year, more than 10 times the number a year earlier, according to Ethiopia’s government. Tens of thousands more migrated illegally, according to the United Nations. Many replaced Asian domestic workers, after the execution of an Indonesian maid and allegations of abuse of Filipinos led those countries to cut the flow of migrants.
Some foreigners are fleeing into the mountains in the southwest to escape the crackdown. Border guards have detained and processed 31,000 people for deportation in the region of Jazan near the Yemeni border since the roundup started, Abdullah Bin Mahfouz, a spokesman for the force, said on Nov. 12. Many Yemenis and other migrants searching for work on farms and construction sites in Saudi Arabia slip in through Jazan.
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