Here’s something Israel could learn from its neighbors: how to confront an existential problem and take care of it before it festers and becomes a serious social illness.
While Israelis have been tormenting one another over the issue of some 50 thousand illegal migrant workers who have snuck into the country through the Sinai border with Egypt, the Saudi government has taken care of a similar problem in under a month.
According to several Arab sources, Saudi Arabia has deported 71,000 illegal foreigners since its crackdown on migrant workers began on November 4, according to latest figures from the kingdom’s Passport Directorate.
Arab News reports that before the deportations began, that almost 300,000 Egyptians had returned home on their own, since the beginning of July. In Yemen, officials are expecting the total of Yemeni returnees from Saudi Arabia to reach 210,000. Some 130,000 returned during the initial crackdown last March (and the subsequent “grace” period), with a further 80,000 expected during the current crackdown.
Arab News reports that two groups are exempted from deportation: Palestinians and Burmese. The Saudis say they will not be kicked out, even if they are caught working without a permit, “due to internal strife in their countries.”
However, according to Saudi Gazette, foreign street vendors in Jeddah, who went into hiding when the crackdown began November 4, have now come out of hiding and are “moving freely in the markets of the historical area selling fruit and vegetables at cheap prices.”
The Gazette also reports unrest among legal foreign workers. In Makkah, foreign hospital cleaners went on strike for a second consecutive day, claiming that the company that employs them has reneged on an agreement to increase their wages from $107 to $187.
Brian Whitaker has written in AlBab.com: “It’s a story too about racism in a kingdom that presents itself to the world as a model of Islamic rectitude, and it’s a story that feeds into debates about immigration in other parts of the world. If you want to know what racists really mean when they say ‘Send them home!’ look no further than Saudi Arabia.”
But Whitaker also expects that Saudi Arabia itself could change as a result of its clash with its poorer neighbors, near and far, adding: “It’s a story that also affects other Arab Gulf states, since they have all become heavily dependent on foreign labor – basically relying on those they regard as inferior beings to do dirty, menial or dangerous tasks from constructing their buildings, driving their cars, cooking their meals, cleaning up their mess and preparing their dead for burial. Many of these people work in conditions that amount to modern-day slavery.”