HRW Urges Saudi to Probe Violence in Illegals Crackdown

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Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged Saudi authorities to launch a probe into violence that accompanied a crackdown launched last month against illegal migrant workers.

It also warned of a "humanitarian disaster" if the workers remain held in deportation centers across the Gulf kingdom.

Saudi authorities had announced the death in November of four people -- two Saudis, a Sudanese and another foreigner -- in clashes with illegal workers.

Addis Ababa had said three Ethiopians were killed in clashes.

The campaign, which started on November 4 after a seven-month amnesty for illegal workers to formalize their status or leave Saudi Arabia, had aroused tensions between the authorities and communities in the country.

On Saturday, police said that two people were wounded in a fight between a group of Ethiopians and a group of Saudis in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

"Saudi authorities have spent months branding foreign workers as criminals in the media, and stirring up anti-migrant sentiment to justify the labor crackdown," said HRW's Joe Stork.

"Now the Saudi government needs to rein in Saudi citizens who are attacking foreign workers," he said.

On Friday, police said a group of Ethiopians held at a deportation center in the western city of Jeddah escaped to a highway in the city where they gathered briefly before authorities recaptured them.

No casualties were reported in this incident.

"Saudi authorities say they are carrying out a crackdown on migrant workers humanely, but keeping thousands of people in makeshift centers without adequate food, shelter, or medical attention could lead to humanitarian disaster," said Stork.

"Saudi officials should release the detainees or send them home immediately."

Ethiopia's foreign ministry said Wednesday it had flown home more than 50,000 citizens, adding that the final total once the mass airlift ends is now expected to be about 80,000.

On Saturday, official media in Sudan said more than 11,000 workers had returned voluntarily from Saudi Arabia after the amnesty ended.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said on November 19 that the kingdom had deported more than 60,000 illegal foreign workers since the amnesty ended and that more would follow.

Nearly a million migrants from various countries took advantage of the amnesty to leave voluntarily.

Another four million were able to find employers to sponsor them, a legal requirement in Saudi Arabia as in several other Gulf states.

Among those considered illegal are foreigners who have overstayed their visas, pilgrims who have sought jobs, and migrants seeking work other than for their sponsor.

Expatriates account for a full nine million of the oil-rich kingdom's population of 27 million.

Despite its huge oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has a jobless rate of more than 12.5 percent among its citizen population, a figure the government has long sought to cut.

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