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Two Killed as Saudi Police Clash With Foreigners in Riyadh

Saudi Immigration
Foreign workers show their documents as they gather outside the Saudi Arabian immigration ministry waiting for an exit visa as Saudi security began their search campaign for illegal laborers, on November 4, 2013 in Riyadh. Photographer: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images

Clashes between Saudi police and foreign nationals in Riyadh killed two people, including a Saudi citizen, as the government cracked down on undocumented workers.

Police arrested 561 people during the riots that erupted last night in south Riyadh, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a police statement. The violence left 68 injured and damaged 104 cars, the news service reported.

The clashes in the narrow streets of Manfouha, a neighborhood with a large Ethiopian population, came as authorities continued implementing measures from Nov. 4 against violators of the kingdom’s labor laws. Police had arrested 16,000 people by the end of the second day of the crackdown as they fanned out across cities, raiding shops and construction sites, al-Riyadh newspaper reported on Nov. 7.

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 unrest. The kingdom has made job creation a priority after popular unrest toppled leaders across the Middle East starting in 2011.

The jobless rate for Saudi workers is about 12 percent, according to official figures, while 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 of 20 analysts.

The Tadawul All Share Index declined 0.2 percent to 8,248 at the 3:30 p.m. close in Riyadh. The Arab world’s biggest exchange has advanced 21 percent this year.

Billions in Remittances

Saudi Arabia has attracted more than 9 million foreign workers, some sneaking illegally across the border from Yemen, as it invests its oil wealth to build roads, airports and new industrial cities. The kingdom of 29 million people was the third-biggest global provider of worker remittances after the U.S. and Russia, sending $29.5 billion in 2012, according to World Bank data.

Along al-Faryan Street in Manfouha today, hundreds of East Africans gathered around a traffic light, some sitting on their over-packed suitcases, as Saudi police watched from outside their vehicles, which blocked the main intersection. Ambulances and buses were parked along side the road.

Deportation Centers

The buses are being used to transport undocumented workers to centers for final exit visa processing and deportation, Al Arabiya satellite television reported, citing its own correspondent. Authorities have set up a place to house violators of the visa laws in Manfouha should they surrender voluntarily, the Saudi Press Agency said, citing a separate police statement.

“I am leaving today,” Abdullah Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Ethiopian, said. “I don’t have a residency permit and need to leave.” Girma Makonnen, fearing the crackdown and the violence last night, is also trying to depart after seven years working in the kingdom.

In Manfouha, some shop signs are written in Amharic, the language spoken in Ethiopia, alongside Arabic. On the back streets, rundown buildings, with plastic water tanks and old air conditioners hanging from cracked walls, stand next to lots with collapsed buildings. The neighborhood provides a sharp contrast to the glass office towers in other parts of the city.

A video posted on YouTube showed men beating someone with sticks and clubs during the crackdown and others running down a street in the neighborhood. Another video showed a convoy of police vehicles responding to the riots. The authenticity of the videos couldn’t be verified.

The Saudi Press Agency didn’t identify the nationality of the second person killed in the clashes. Police shot and killed one Ethiopian man earlier this week as he tried to grab a policeman’s weapon during a raid, the Jeddah-based Arab News newspaper reported on Nov. 8.

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