May 31, 2013

SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Official Whips Migrant Worker With Belt

France24 news
written by Staff and Walid Abou Al Khair
Tuesday May 28, 2013

A video filmed in Saudi Arabia has thrown the authorities’ treatment of migrant workers back into the spotlight. The footage shows an official in the coastal city of Jeddah chasing Africans out of a passport office and beating one of them with a belt, shouting: "Out!"

The video was filmed on Sunday May 26 by a man who had accompanied his domestic worker to the passport office. The situation for migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is increasingly precarious: many are facing expulsion as the country tries to curb unemployment, which stood at 12% at the end of 2012.

“Every day, hundreds of people turn up at passport centres, hoping to legalise their status”

Walid Abou Al Khair is a human rights activist in Jeddah. He was one of the first people to publish the video on social networks.
Every city has a passport centre. They are where immigrants get work and residence permits. These immigrants are mostly from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and neighbouring Yemen.

To work in Saudi Arabia, unless they have millions of riyals for a residence permit, a migrant worker needs a sponsor [Editor’s note: as in some other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia has adopted the ‘kafala’ immigration system whereby prospective migrants must have a ‘kafeel’, or sponsor].

Many workers have been able to come here by getting a sponsor, and then leaving them in order to work for themselves. Others change sponsor. So these workers' situation is not legal in the eyes of the state. And some have entered the country with a pilgrim visa, and then they’ve stayed and worked illegally.

It is these workers who are targeted by the government’s expulsion measures. The campaign has given rise to abuse: there are images showing hundreds of workers packed into trucks, sent back home from one day to the next, even though they have all their belongings here.

Following the controversy caused by the first wave of expulsions [Editor’s note: 200,000 workers were sent home], the king allowed a three-month grace period to give people a chance to legalise their status by finding a sponsor. So the workers headed to the passport centres, like the one shown in the video, hoping to be legalise their status.

The passport centres are overwhelmed. There are workers on the floor, in the corridors or in front of the building. In this video, an official had clearly had enough of the crowds and that’s why he chased them out. These images are shocking, but unfortunately they offer just one small example of the mistreatment suffered by migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

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