AFRICANGLOBE – Thousands of African migrants residing illegally in Saudi Arabia’s main city of Riyadh surrendered to police on Sunday, residents said, a day after two people were killed in violent clashes between Ethiopians and vigilante residents backed by police.
The clashes, which also injured 68, were the clearest sign yet of how rapidly a nationwide crackdown on millions of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia could spiral into chaos and instability in the tightly-controlled Arab kingdom.
The sweeps and deportations appear to have broad backing by Saudis since it is aimed largely at creating more job opportunities for the kingdom’s own citizens, who comprise less than half of the country’s workforce.
The official Saudi news agency said police arrested 561 rioters who barricaded themselves in the narrow streets of Riyadh‘s Manhoufa neighborhood Saturday night. It said they threw stones, threatened people with knives and damaged more than 100 cars and many shops.
The agency described the rioters as “anonymous” without saying why they were rioting. It quoted Riyadh police spokesman Brig. Gen. Nasser al-Qahtani as saying a Saudi man and an unidentified person were killed by rioters, who were mostly foreign workers who did not have valid work permits and were facing deportation.
An Egyptian resident who has lived in Manhoufa for more than 30 years told reporters that violence erupted when Ethiopian migrants wielding guns and sticks closed off busy streets and forced stores to close early in protest of the killing of an Ethiopian man by police last week during raids against foreigners.
He said the Ethiopians also were protesting the new security sweep, which comes after seven months of warnings by Saudi authorities. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from his neighbors and authorities.
He said angry vigilante Saudi residents of Manhoufa fought and even detained some Ethiopians until police arrived more than two hours later. In other parts of the neighborhood, Ethiopians threw rocks at police cars trying to enter the area, he said.
Video taken by residents in the neighborhood and shared on state-backed news websites showed a crowd of Saudi residents banging on an Ethiopian man’s front door, before pulling him out and hitting him in the street as he lay curled up on the ground. The resident said he saw similar scenes of Saudis beating Ethiopians and cheering on the police when they arrived.
Other residents in Mahoufa said they saw dozens of buses carrying thousands of African migrants, including women and children, out of the neighborhood Sunday to temporary housing along the airport road in Riyadh. They also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from authorities.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, has not released figures for the total number of arrests made since the crackdown began a week ago. Officials quoted in Saudi newspapers say more than 30,000 foreigners have been detained. Police said in a statement that more than 4,000 migrants have been detained in Riyadh alone.
By: Abdullah Al-Shisri and Aya Batrawy