One of the highest cited countries for crimes against migrant workers is Saudi Arabia. The labor situation is so destitute and exploitative that Human Rights Watch referred to the treatment as “slave like conditions.” There are more than 9 million migrants, which constitute more than half the labor force. As of Monday, amnesty will no longer be granted and many will be fined, imprisoned and deported.
Last July, King Abdullah extended the deadline for migrant workers to update their residency and employment status by November 4.
Currently, the country operates under the kafala, or “visa sponsorship program,” where sponsoring employers control residency permits of migrants. If a worker wants to change employer or leave the country the current employer must give consent. Many human rights organizations charge that employers abuse the power by confiscating passports, withholding wages, and forcing migrants to work.
Human Rights Watch covered Saudi Arabia’s crimes against migrant workers extensively in their 2013 World Report. Abuses to domestic workers included complaints that they were forced to work for 15 to 20 hours per day, seven days a week, with denied salaries and documents taken. The domestic laborers, the majority women, repeatedly endured forced confinement, food deprivation, and severe psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
The complaints from workers were so rampant at embassies that in 2011 and 2012, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal and the Philippines restricted their citizens from migrating to Saudi for domestic work. Migration did however resume between Philippines and Saudi once an agreement was made for a minimum of $400 per month.
Another visa system, referred to as the “free visa” arrangement, allows Saudi citizens to sponsor workers even though they do not have official businesses. Once the migrant enters the country, they find work elsewhere but pay thousands in annual and monthly fees to the Saudi sponsor who controls their residency and permits.
Details of the raids were publicized at the press conference, attended by Deputy Ministers of Labor, Assistant Director of Public Security, and a representative of the Passports Directorate. The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki , announced that not even Syrian refugees are exempt. Syrian illegals will receive the identical penal action and be treated the same as other nationalities in the raids, however, humanitarian consideration will be given.
“All expatriates who work for their personal gain or overstayed their hajj, umrah, and visit visas and infiltrators will be caught and will be detained until completing legal procedures for penal measures and deportation. The campaign also aims at catching Saudis who employ illegal residents or those who leave their workers to find jobs on their own.”
It is estimated that nearly one million migrants from Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan and Yemen have already left the country within the past three months to avoid the amnesty expiring. Four million reportedly obtained work permits before the deadline on Sunday. Indonesian officials said around 3,000 Indonesian migrants were awaiting deportation in Jeddah.
The chaos in Saudi Arabia will continue, as “all the branches of the Public Security will shoulder the responsibility of catching the violators and handing them over to detention centers, which will be under the supervision of the General Prisons Directors A force for apprehending violators has been set up under the Public Security to carry out the mission,” al-Turki said. “Those who cover up illegals or those who give them shelter or transportation or any kind of help will also be apprehended,” he said.
In Saudi, migrants were not only gravely exploited and abused, but now will be hunted down by “secret teams,” as described by Maj. Gen. Jamaan al-Ghamdi, Assistant Director of Public Security. Though the Minister of Labor assured “inspectors have been strictly ordered and trained to behave in a civilized manner,” the world will be scrutinizing the raids because after all, Saudi Arabia is famous for human rights violations.
By: Cayce Manesiotis