The streets of many cities across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are almost barren, many shops remain closed and trash is piling up in streets across the country. The reason: Thousands of foreign workers have been deported from the country.
The cleanup operation may rid the country of its illegal immigrants, but it has left it without a major part of its work force.
Saudi Arabia has had 9 million migrant laborers working on its soil. Decades of lax immigration enforcement allowed them to take low-wage manual, clerical and service jobs that Saudis themselves have never done.
Earlier this year the government of Saudi Arabia gave its illegal immigrants a seven-month grace period to correct the labor and residency status. Following which they have started the process of conducting a crackdown on illegal workers in the Kingdom.
The crackdown operations have resulted in clashes as well as 3 deaths. Amazingly, according to Ethiopian Ambassador to the Kingdom Muhammed Hassan Kabiera, the clashes occurred not because the workers were resisting the arrests but because they “were frustratedthey did not have a way to surrender to the police."
The claim of the Ethiopian Ambassador is however not too far from the truth.
Thousands of undocumented expatriates desperately seeking to get arrested and deported staged a sit in across Jeddah and other cities in the Western Province of the Kingdom recently, ‘desperately looking for avenues that will land them in a police vehicle, the first step to going home,’ says Irfan Mohammad of Arab News.
The raids have worked, about 23,000 Ethiopians have handed themselves over . Nearly a million Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis have left the country in the past few months.
Why the Massive Cleanup?
According to Khaled Al Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette, the action is to clean up the Kingdom of two kinds of infringers:
1. The over-stayers and
2. The illegal/smuggled workers
However, according to a Saudi site Zawya, the raids are being carried out to create job vacancies for Saudis. They stated Fadal Abu Ainain, an economist and adviser for several private companies saying, the campaign has left "a huge vacuum" because thousands of illegal workers have been sent home."This will see the need for companies to hire local workers, which will not only cut the cost of hiring labor from abroad but also increase the percentage of Saudis in the private sector."
But therein lays the problem:
What happens in the meanwhile?
The same site also reports that 450,000 Saudis are to be trained to make up the work force and have stated said Ali bin Nasser Al-Ghafis, governor of Technical and Vocational Training Corporation saying that "About 450,000 Saudi boys and girls will be trained in different vocations over a period of five years under the new plan."
"All these vocational training centers -- both for boys and girls -- will be operational within three years," he adds.
Good enough? Not really.
Who will suffer the most from it?
There are two parties here:
1. The people being kicked out (leaving job vacancies behind)
They mostly come from poor countries and are horrendously treated. Saudi Arabia is renowned to be a hell for migrant workers- the more menial your job, the most you suffer. Many are trapped in cycles of poverty and even kept there against their will. For many, the deportations will be a blessing.
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2. People who will take up these vacancies.
Not many Saudis are trained to do the jobs they have been relying on migrants to carry out for decades. Though the training programs mentioned above are a smart step, but is t going to be enough?
Will the Saudis like working menial jobs that most of the migrants hold?
Let’s face it, Saudis do not like driving cabs, serving food, and cleaning septic tanks. They have relied for decades on menial workers from countries like Pakistan, India, Philippines, Bangladesh, SriLanka and Yemen, just to name a few.
In many parts of the Kingdom, the harvest season has just started and they are already facing lack of labor to pick their crops.
The country is likely to get rid of its illegal workers but it will be hard to fill the gap. Saudis used to the luxury of having menial aid doing most of their laborious chores, will find themselves extremely short staffed.
So, it is reasonably safe to assume that lower staff from all over the world will still be going there, but under stricter rules and regulations and much more vigilance.
It is the middle-tier workers that are more likely to stay out. But anyone who knows the Saudis, knows how ill suited they are to jobs other than high-end ones. Times to come will surely have interesting news coming out of the Kingdom’s economic and financial sector.