Saudi Arabia began the drive to deport illegal foreigners four weeks ago, with the majority being unskilled Asian labourers working in the booming construction sector. Image Credit: EPA

Manama: Saudi Arabia has deported more than 110,000 foreigners who had been staying illegally in the kingdom.

The deportation drive was launched following the end on November 4 of a seven-month amnesty for all expatriates to formalise their residence and work permits in the country.

“The number of illegal foreigners who were taken home was 110,234,” Ahmad Al Luhaidan, a spokesperson for the Passports department, said. “The operation was done through the cooperation of all interior ministry sectors and we will continue to apply the rules and regulations towards anyone who is not staying or working legally in the kingdom,” he said on Tuesday.

The deportation process starts with contacts with the diplomatic missions of those who are detained for breaking the law, he added.

“Their diplomatic representations need to issue formal documents for those who do not have them. We then use them to check if there are any security issues regarding their status. Once they are cleared, they are taken to the exit point from where they go home,” he said.

Riyadh repeatedly warned that it would apply a strict policy towards the foreigners who did not have formal documents to work or live in the country. The drive is part of a comprehensive reform of the labour market where the presence of unofficially registered labourers and employees has created a chaotic situation.

The labour ministry has been pushing for recruiting Saudi men and women among rising unemployment figures.

The drive was initially resisted by members of the business community who favoured cheaper and more compliant foreign labour and by local conservative forces opposed to women taking up jobs in shops.

However, the authorities did not recoil under the onslaught and insisted on full compliance with its directives, suspending at times lingerie shops for not recruiting Saudi saleswomen.

The drive to deport illegal foreigners after the end of the grace period four weeks ago waded into trouble when police and Ethiopians clashed in the Manfoukha district in the southern part of the capital Riyadh.

At least two people were killed in the unprecedented clashes, including a Saudi teenager who was watching the dramatic events.

The authorities moved thousands of Ethiopians to a former college building where they were kept prior to their departure.

Around nine million foreigners live in Saudi Arabia, making up one third of the total population.

The majority are unskilled Asian labourers working in the booming construction sector and in services.