During one of the raids to detain illegal expatriates Image Credit: Sabq

Manama: Yemenis make up 75 per cent of the 4,432 foreigners arrested for sneaking illegally into Saudi Arabia, official figures released on Wednesday indicate.

Ethiopians make up 23 per cent and other nationalities that were not specified are the remaining two per cent.

The Saudi authorities have so far deported 4,140 of the foreigners who got into the kingdom clandestinely and who were caught between November 15 and January 2, according to the figures carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The authorities also caught 178 people for trying to leave Saudi Arabia illegally during the same period.

Yemenis, lured by much more attractive economic opportunities in their vast neighbour, are often willing to take high risks and cross the mountainous 1,800-kilometre frontier often described as “the border that separates the Arab world’s poorest country from its richest.”

The border has also attracted Africans keen on escaping difficult living conditions in their homelands and dreaming about golden opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

However, in addition to the “economic refugees”, the border has also become a magnet for religious fanatics and radicals intent on carrying out terror attacks in the kingdom. Drug and weapon smugglers also spent time and money to outwit the soldiers at the desert borders and reach clients.

The threats have prompted Saudi Arabia to spend millions of riyals to boost its defence, security and vigilance capabilities to keep intruders who are at times heavily armed out of the kingdom.

Inside the major cities, Saudi authorities seek to impose law and order by launching campaigns to detain foreigners who are staying illegally in the kingdom.

The latest campaign has enabled them to arrest 337,281 foreigners, including 198,231 who did not have valid residence permits and 99,980 who did not have valid work permits.

In an attempt to tackle the negative impact of economic and social ramifications and risks from the growing number of foreigners who prefer to stay in Saudi Arabia to going home despite the expiry of their documents, the authorities in March last year gave illegal over-stayers a three-month grace period to leave the kingdom without paying fines or facing legal measures.

The grace period was part of the “Nation Free of Violators” campaign to help undocumented expatriates regularise their status.

Illegal expatriates were warned that they would have to pay fines ranging from 15,000 to 100,000 riyals if they failed to regularise their situation or leave the country within the 90-day amnesty.

The crackdown was launched in several cities following the end of the grace period.