Saudi Arabia has begun taking a strong push to gather and deport undocumented migrant workers, most of whom come from Ethiopia. Government officials say the drastic action aims to combat Saudi Arabia’s 12 percent unemployment rate.
The aggressive move has seen a number of migrants arrested or in flight from Saudi Arabia. According to BBC News, Saudi authorities have had around 23,000 Ethiopian workers turn themselves in for deportation. It’s also reported that the first group of deported migrants arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday.
The Saudi Arabian government’s actions have sparked protests against what some say are targeted attacks against Ethiopians. Early November Saudi authorities began rounding up migrant workers who had failed to gain legal work permits during an amnesty seven months earlier.
One Saudi leader has rejected claims that the clampdown is targeting Ethiopians or any specific group. Instead, he says, it is aimed at all undocumented workers to “ensure all residents in our country are staying legally.”
Despite these assurances, violent clashes have erupted between resisting migrants and police forces. Several people have already died, three Saudis and two migrants, reports Euronews. Protests outside the Saudi embassy in Ethiopia have also resulted in police to disperse crowds. As The Jakarta Post reports, one protester says he was beaten by Ethiopian police. He says he finds Ethiopia’s protection of Saudi Arabia puzzling. At least two dozen protesters have been arrested for protesting outside the Saudi embassy.
Nearly nine million migrants work in Saudi Arabia, making up over half the nation’s workforce. Of these, nearly four million were able to get work permits to stay in the country after the temporary amnesty ended. Another million have already left, most of them originally from East Africa or South Asia.
Leaders in Saudi Arabia hope that cracking down on illegal migrants will create more jobs for native Saudis by eliminating black market labor.