RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi police killed an Ethiopian migrant who tried to flee arrest, authorities said Wednesday, as a crackdown on foreigners working illegally in the kingdom widens with more than 16,000 arrests.
The security sweep comes after seven months of warnings by Saudi Arabia's government, which has created a special task force of 1,200 Labor Ministry officials who are combing shops, construction sites, restaurants and businesses in search of foreign workers employed without proper permits.
Police have also erected checkpoints to enforce the kingdom's strict labor rules that make it virtually impossible to remain in the country without official sponsorship by an employer.
Residents said most shops have been closed since the sweep began Monday, with many of the country's migrants avoiding the streets where they face possible arrest. State-backed Saudi Gazette reported Wednesday that residents are already feeling the brunt of the everyday work the migrants provided, from ritual washings of corpses before burial to food delivery and bagging groceries.
Authorities say that since warnings were issued earlier this year, almost 7 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia corrected their paperwork to accurately reflect their occupation and workplace. The kingdom also issued more than 1 million final exit visas, which ban people from ever returning.
The Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that authorities detained around 16,500 workers in the first 48 hours of the nationwide crackdown. The newspaper quoted Saudi officials as saying that nearly half of the migrants were arrested near the southern border with Yemen. Another 5,000 had been detained in Mecca, where some Muslims stay on illegally after pilgrimage. Less than 1,000 were detained in the main city of Riyadh.
A resident in the poorer neighborhood of el-Manhoufa in Riyadh told The Associated Press he saw police stopping people outside a mosque after prayers and arresting those who did not have the correct papers on them.
The statement Wednesday by Riyadh police chief Nasser el-Qahtani said security forces killed the African migrant worker in el-Manhoufa a day earlier when he and others tried to resist arrest. Those detained will eventually be deported.
The sweep is aimed largely at creating more job opportunities for the kingdom's own citizens, who comprise less than half of the country's work force.