Purge on illegals

Security teams comb cities and villages for visa violators


Saudi Gazette

FOLLOWING the end of a general amnesty that lasted almost eight months, Saudi security forces started a massive combing operation across the Kingdom Wednesday night to flush out all remaining visa violators from the country. Officials said about 7,500 people were arrested on the first day of the operation.

The Ministry of Interior announced early this year a campaign called “A Nation Without Illegal Expats", allowing an initial three-month grace period starting March 29 for all residency and labor law violators to leave the Kingdom without facing any penalties. The grace period was extended a number of times until it finally ended on Nov. 14.

Security forces along with concerned government agencies have intensified their crackdown on violators who still remain in the country after the grace period ended. As many as 19 government agencies are part of the campaign. According to the police, criminal investigation teams have identified several localities where illegal expatriates are likely to have holed up.

Security teams in Makkah region, which hosts the largest number of expatriates among all 13 Saudi provinces, have started their combing operations Wednesday night itself. A total of 51 teams pressed into action in various parts of the province.

Police advised Saudi citizens and legal residents not to shelter or help any illegal expatriates and warned of strict punitive measures against those who harbor violators. They have also been asked to report violators by calling 911 in Makkah and 999 in other parts of the Kingdom.

A preparatory meeting was held by Director of Makkah Police Maj. Gen. Saeed Al-Qarni at the police headquarters on Wednesday. The meeting was attended by top officials from all relevant agencies, according to a police statement issued late Wednesday.

“We arrested 481,372 residency and labor law violators in the Makkah region last year,” said Col. Ati Al-Qurashi, spokesman for Makkah police.

Besides Jeddah, Taif, Makkah, Rabigh, Kamil and Khulais also witnessed intensified inspection campaigns by security forces backed by all relevant authorities, including the Civil Defense, Saudi Electricity Company and Saudi Red Cross Authority from Wednesday night. Local media reported intensive campaigns in other parts of the country, including Madinah, Eastern Province and Jazan. According to sources, security forces were also combing remote areas including agricultural farms to nab any violators holed up there.

Col. Sami Al-Shuwairikh, a senior Public Security official, said about 7,500 violators had been arrested on the first day of the crackdown.

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman for the Interior Ministry, has said more than 758,570 visa violators from 140 nationalities have taken advantage of the general amnesty announced by Saudi Arabia about eight months ago.

The number includes residency and labor law violators, Haj and Umrah visa overstayers and people who crossed into the Kingdom breaching border security, he told a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday.

Al-Turki said about 37 percent of the violators left the Kingdom directly through various exit points, including airports, seaports and land exits. The majority of them had come to the Kingdom on Haj, Umrah, visit or transit visas.

Approximately 60 percent of the visa violators left Saudi Arabia after completing departure procedures at the deportation departments, the Saudi Press Agency quoted Maj. Gen. Al-Turki as saying.

Al-Turki said these violators included people who absconded from work, people who did not have their resident permits renewed for many years and those who did not hold any identification papers. They also included infiltrators who crossed into the Kingdom illegally.

Al-Turki said the remaining 3 percent completed departure procedures and obtained final exit visas but they did not leave the country yet according to official records.

He expressed hope that these people would be able to leave the Kingdom before the expiry of their final exit visas.

More than 2.5 million visa violators left during the last amnesty three years ago, according to the official.

The 2013 amnesty came during a crackdown on the labor black market in the country and was extended from three months to seven months to allow more time for workers to leave the country.