Manama: For Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, a senior columnist, the situation in Saudi Arabia has become ominous at the security and social levels as a result of years of chaos accumulation and the seemingly inexorable increase in the number of illegal expatriates.

“Although a large number have regularized their status, many more remain without proper documentations. Nobody knows their numbers. They can be in the thousands or in the millions. It is obvious that the security agencies are facing formidable challenges trying to take them out while controlling the situation, as was clear in the unprecedented riots in the Saudi capital Riyadh,” he said.

Saudis will certainly face terrible challenges monitoring their land borders that exceed 4,400 kilometres alongside eight countries and their 2,600 kilometres of coastlines on two water bodies, the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, Al Rashed added.

“One solution is to make the use of illegal labour expensive for Saudi employers while at the same time ease operations for dedicated companies that will import labour. The sponsorship has to go and the market needs to move towards a more humane system through companies that preserve the rights of workers and help achieve the security of the country,” Al Rashed wrote in Al Sharq Al Awsat daily.

The columnist said that the status regularization and inspection campaigns were scoring successes, but, as expected, were also making victims.

“The main victims are a category of people who have nothing in common with the illegal workers. There are people who were born and grew up in Saudi Arabia. They know no other country. Some of them have lived in Saudi Arabia for 40 years and have become genuine citizens of the kingdom, although not from a legal point of view. We do not know their number, but it is not really big compared with that of the illegal residents. These people shared with Saudis the harder and easier times and toiled tirelessly without complaining. They and their families deserve to be given the right to reside in the kingdom.”

Al Rashed said that the drive to reform the labour market had come a long way and that the complete overhaul of the market was a serious requirement by security as well as civil organization considerations that would serve the interests of all parties.

“We are witnessing a new phase of the reform project. It started with the registration of all citizens, followed by an amelioration of electronic documentation such as fingerprints and the women’s rights to have identity cards. The rules for importing labour were rearranged and the campaign to regularize the status of expatriates followed afterwards alongside the establishment of companies tasked with preserving the rights of all parties. The latest phase is to have those who did not formalise their stay conditions leave the country. It is not going to be easy as shown by the street fights in Riyadh. The full reforms are not only a security necessity, but also a requirement for the sake of a civil organistion of society,” he said.