Middle East Monitor (MEMO) on Wednesday published a news item saying that Saudi authorities have arrested nearly one million people in four days over the last week. The London-based website attributed that to Saudi daily Okaz. Arresting that number of people in a few days seems impossible, no matter how efficient Saudi security forces are. So what’s happening here?
In March 2017, Saudi authorities announced a grace period of 90 days for undocumented foreign workers to correct their status or face deportation. That amnesty was later extended by another 30 days and ended by July 25, 2017.
As the amnesty ended, security forces launched a campaign called “A Nation Without Violators” to track violators of residence, employment and border-security systems. The government has been releasing monthly updates on the outcomes of that campaign.
The latest update, published today, talks about more than one million violators. But the language in these updates can be confusing, which probably explains why MEMO and other sources misreported the situation.
The word “arrest” is probably inaccurate to describe the situation. A better way to put it is to say authorities have dealt with more than one million cases since the beginning of the campaign last August. Some of the cases were fined, others were referred to their diplomatic missions and the rest were deported.
It is unclear how many undocumented workers live in the kingdom, but a member of the Shura Council last year called for measures to deport 5 million people living illegally in the country. Such calls have gained momentum in recent months as unemployment rate among Saudis continues to rise, fuelling anti-foreign sentiments.