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Saudi Arabia cracks down on illegal immigrants

The latest crackdown raises larger questions about the role of foreign labor in Saudi Arabia.
An Ethiopian worker argues with a member of the Saudi security forces as he waits with his countrymen to be repatriated in Manfouha, southern Riyadh, November 11, 2013. Thousands of mostly African workers gathered in Riyadh on Sunday seeking repatriation after two people were killed in overnight rioting that followed a visa crackdown by Saudi authorities. One of those killed was a Saudi, said a government statement, and the other was not identified. An Ethiopian man was killed in a visa raid last week. Ethi
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There is nothing more satisfying to a disgruntled population struggling with high unemployment than raiding and rounding up illegal immigrants. Governments are compelled to appear in charge at difficult times, and a struggling society happily watches hundreds of illegal immigrants being deported. Out of the crisis, there emerges a sense of momentary quasi-nationalism that may soon evaporate amid news of clashes and death. Illegal immigrants are the "stranger" par excellence, and are always good scapegoats, an enemy within who can be blamed for all sorts of ills, from petty crime to taking jobs from locals.

The Saudi government has decided to act and round up thousands of illegal immigrants of various nationalities in Riyadh and Jeddah after giving them notice to either leave the country or sort out their visa situations. So far, the raids resulted in several deaths among both the security forces and the immigrants. Images of battles in the most deprived areas of Riyadh, where such immigrants find refuge, circulated with Saudis either participating in vigilantism and lending support to their police force or simply cheering and watching the drama unfold from a distance. One Saudi civilian went as far as boasting about his participation in "liberating" a shabby building from illegal Ethiopian immigrants. Immediately after the raids, a consensus emerged with regard to the operation to cleanse the country from the menace of those strangers who are often accused of forming gangs and engaging in petty crime, brewing alcohol for local consumption and running prostitution rings.

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