Over 39,000 people have been deported since October 2016 over visa violations and security concerns, the Saudi Gazette reported, citing unnamed interior ministry officials. As well as crimes including drug trafficking, forgery and theft, an unknown number of those removed from the country were suspected to have links to Isis and other extremist groups, the paper said.
The alleged mass deportations come after a year of strikes and other unrest in the kingdom due to unpaid wages following the oil market’s decline and subsequent blow to the Saudi economy.
Official Saudi statistics say that 243,000 Pakistanis were deported between 2012 - 2015. Mass deportations of migrant workers - which Human Rights Watch and other rights organisations say often involve illegal beatings and detainment in poor conditions - are fairly common.
2010 census figures show that 8.5 million of Saudi Arabia's 27 million strong population, or around 30 per cent, are foreign nationals.
According to a 2014 European University Institute report, there are approximately 900,000 people of Pakistani nationality currently employed in Saudi Arabia’s vast construction industry and other low-paid service jobs.
In Mecca in January, dozens of expatriate workers, mostly from poor Asian and Middle Eastern countries, were beaten and jailed over public protests against unpaid salaries that turned violent.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
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Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
While the Philippines and India have also seen hundreds of thousands of citizens returned home after lay-offs in Saudi Arabia, the deportation of Pakistani workers has been mainly driven by security concerns, the New Arab reported.
Several prominent Saudi politicians, including Abdullah Al-Sadoun, chair of the security committee of the country’s Shura Council, have called for tougher screening processes for Pakistani nationals before they are allowed entry into the country.
“Pakistan itself is plagued with terrorism due to its close proximity with Afghanistan. The Taliban extremist movement was itself born in Pakistan,” he said.
Approximately 80 Pakistani nationals are currently in prison in Saudi Arabia charged with terror or security related offences.
In 2016, 35-year-old Abdullah Gulzar Khan, a Pakistani citizen who had lived and worked in Saudi Arabia legally for the previous 12 years, blew himself up in a suicide attack near the US consulate in Jeddah. No other injuries were reported in the incident.
Two Pakistani nationals as well as one Sudanese and one Syrian were also arrested for allegedly planning a terror attack on a football match between the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates in Jeddah’s Al-Jawhara Stadium last year.