Millions of immigrants in Saudi Arabia are fearing deportation, fines or even jail as Riyadh promises to crack down on illegal migrants. As Silvia Antonioli reports, the Kingdom is trying to hit the black labour market to reduce unemployment for its nationals.
Saudi Arabia is known for its heavy hand when it comes to law enforcement. Now millions of illegal foreign workers are bracing to feel its force. The kingdom has promised fines, deportation and even jail for anyone caught without valid identity documents after a grace period expired at the beginning of this month. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FILIPINO BEAUTICIAN, WILMA, SAYING: "We cannot go out, we cannot go even shopping. Even we go to market, we cannot, because we are afraid. I am afraid for the police, they catch me and they put in the jail." Riyadh wants to hit the black labour market to boost employment for its nationals. As its economy grapples with depressed oil prices, the jobless rate has climbed to almost 13-percent. Crown Prince Salman is trying to reverse this trend with reforms that target illegal foreign workers. Over half a million of them took advantage of the amnesty and left without penalty. Millions more have remained. Many of them say they are trapped and claim their employers or authorities are withholding vital documents. This Pakistani worker says his former employer has failed to pay him or return his passport. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAKISTANI WORKER, AURANGZEB AKRAM, SAYING: "He (government) is told unlegal person, but I am legal. I come here company, Binladin company. He is my iqama." Over a third of the 32 million people living in Saudi are low-skilled foreign workers. The official figures say most come from Asia and Africa and many live in appalling conditions.