A violent roundup of African and other foreign workers in Saudi Arabia whose visas are expired has struck fear into the immigrant community, which was once welcomed in the Arab country to perform the low-level jobs Saudis did not want to do.
Unemployment in Saudi Arabia has reportedly risen to 12 percent, putting pressure on the government to resolve the job shortage. With work visas no longer valid, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have departed Saudi Arabia in the last seven months. Thousands more have been arrested since the amnesty period expired on Nov. 4.
In Riyadh’s Manfuhah neighborhood, plainclothes police were captured on video beating and arresting immigrants. Vigilante Saudi residents reportedly joined the fighting and even detained some Ethiopians.
Manfuhah is home to many migrants, mostly from east Africa. An estimated 9 million migrant workers are in Saudi Arabia—more than half the workforce—filling manual, clerical and service jobs.
Later on Sunday, thousands of mostly African workers gathered in the capital to prepare for repatriation.
Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom said he heard that three Ethiopian citizens had been killed, one last Tuesday and two in the latest clashes.
“This is unacceptable. We call on the Saudi government to investigate this issue seriously. We are also happy to take our citizens, who should be treated with dignity while they are there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s social media community has jumped into the fray, creating a Twitter trend called “#SomeoneTellSaudiArabia,” which has drawn hundreds of Ethiopians to share their outrage over the reports of Saudi abuse of their compatriots.
“Saudi Arabia exploits and abuses migrant workers and then deports them,” tweeted Daniel Yilma.
“Dear humanity, I miss you, in the midst of all [this] barbarity,” wrote Zelalem Kibret. Protests are planned in Washington, D.C., Stockholm and Frankfurt, Germany.