Foreign labourers turn themselves into Saudi authorities after clashes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:46pm


Thousands of foreign labourers have turned themselves over to the authorities in Saudi Arabia for repatriation to their home countries after a night of protests and clashes in which one foreigner and one Saudi were killed.

The protests on Sunday were directed against a Saudi campaign to arrest and deport illegal immigrants who were given until last week to get valid work permits or leave the country. In recent days, security forces have raided work sites of large employers of foreign labourers and the neighbourhoods where they live to round up violators.

Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Persian Gulf nations have long relied on large numbers of foreign labourers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere to keep their economies running by doing jobs like driving taxis, building skyscrapers and staffing hospitals, schools and universities.

Human rights organisations have accused the Gulf countries of failing to protect the rights of foreigner labourers, many of whom pay large placement fees to get jobs and surrender their passports to those sponsoring them once they arrive.

On Sunday, Frangois Cripeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, called on Qatar to abolish the sponsorship system, saying it often leads to abuses.

Qatar, host of soccer's 2022 World Cup, has increased its reliance on foreign workers to prepare for the event. Speaking in Qatar's capital, Doha, Cripeau said many foreign workers lived in subpar conditions, and he described one worker residence he had visited as a "slum".

Officials in Gulf countries say no workers are forced to move to the region for jobs, but that those who do can earn much more than they can at home.

The tensions in Saudi Arabia come amid a push to increase the percentage of Saudis in the country's workforce while reducing the number of foreigners.

The Saudi government announced an amnesty for foreign workers without proper work permits that ended on November 4. On Saturday, clashes broke out between workers and police officers in a poor neighbourhood in Riyadh, the capital, where many migrants live.

Saudi authorities said scores of people were injured and that hundreds were detained, while more than 100 cars were damaged. One Saudi and one unidentified person were killed.

On Sunday, thousands of labourers, most of them from east African countries, turned themselves in to authorities. Some had paid smugglers to get them into the kingdom, while others had arrived legally, but had changed jobs or not kept their documents up to date.