68 injured as migrant workers go on the rampage; 561 arrested

Saudi authorities and migrant workers, mostly from east Africa, clashed on Saturday in a southern district of Riyadh — the violence being attributed to the government’s Nitaqat policy aimed at expanding employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.

The Saudi daily Arab News reported that violence broke out when a group of men, angered by the Kingdom’s campaign against illegal expatriate workers, went on the rampage in Riyadh’s southern district of Manfouha on Saturday night.

The area is mostly occupied by poor migrant workers, mainly from east Africa.

Two people, including one Saudi national, were killed when riot police responded to attacks by expats with rocks, knives and sticks. Police fired shots in the air and used truncheons to disperse the large crowds. Sixty-eight people, including 28 Saudis and 40 foreigners, were injured during the violence, which also led to 561 arrests.

Grace period ends

The government has launched a drive to round up those who have been staying illegally, following the expiry of a seven-month amnesty that allowed expatriates, mostly in the blue-collar category, to either shift jobs or leave the country, without paying a penalty.

Under Saudi laws, those who overstay their visas or work for someone other than their official sponsor are considered illegal.

The seven-month grace period had been given on account of the displacement of expatriate workers caused by the enforcement of the Nitaqat policy. According to the policy, at least 10 per cent of the workforce in any private enterprise should be Saudi.

Nearly four million expatriates, including one million Indians, have managed to find new employers, and around a million have left the country. Expatriates comprise one-third of Saudi Arabia’s population of around 27 million.

Arab Spring

The Saudis decided to introduce new labour laws to counter the possible fallout in the Kingdom of the Arab Spring, where youth unemployment had become a major cause of political uprisings, which toppled many regimes in the region.

Observers say that authorities are trying to tighten vigil. However, in the past a large number of migrants from neighbouring African countries have entered the Kingdom through a relatively porous Saudi-Yemen border. Since many arrived without the required documents, they have found it difficult to either find new jobs or manage a legal exit during the amnesty period.

AFP quoted the Ethiopian government as saying that arrangements were being made to repatriate citizens who had missed the amnesty deadline.