Manama: A massive police operation restored calm to a neighbourhood in the Red Sea city of Jeddah following clashes between Ethiopian and Chadian expatriates late on Sunday.
The clashes, one day after Ethiopians clashed with Saudis in a neighbourhood in the southern part of the capital Riyadh, have intensified calls in the Saudi kingdom for stringent action against “those who target the security of the nation”.
A spokesman for the Jeddah police said that a group of Ethiopians clashed with Chadians and hurled stones at one another in the Al Aziziya neighbourhood in Jeddah.
“The public order forces received a call late on Sunday about the clashes between Ethiopians and Chadians, which disturbed the peace in Al Aziziya neighbourhood,” Nawaf Bin Nasser said. “Several Saudi nationals tried to appease the situation between the two groups, but 14 cars had been damaged by the stones they hurled at one another,” he said.
Police were able to arrest 57 people, all of whom were foreigners staying illegally in the country, he added.
“They have been now referred to the police and then to the public prosecution for investigation,” Bin Nasser said, quoted by local news site Sabq on Monday.
Reports in Jeddah said that the Ethiopians started to meet at around 5pm in the neighborhood before they clashed with residents.
“At least one Saudi national was injured when he was hit during the chaos,” Muwaten, a news site, reported. Claims that one Ethiopian was hurt in the clashes could not be confirmed.
A video clip circulated on social networks showed crowds of expatriate men carrying sticks, standing or walking slowly in a neighborhood.
Reports said that the police forced their way through an “Ethiopian cordon” set up to prevent inspectors from checking the papers and conditions of Ethiopians in the area.
Saudi authorities have apprehended thousands of foreigners who were staying in the country without proper documents or who were employed in jobs for which they had no contract in violation of the labour laws.
A grace period of seven months granted to allow those staying or working illegally in the country to regularise their status ended on November 3, but many have not been able to take advantage of it.
The Saudis had pledged a zero-tolerance policy towards those who failed to rectify their situation.
Saudi columnists have been urging the state not to compromise on its drive to reform the labour market and to address the issue of trafficking in visas that allowed foreigners, mainly unskilled labourers from Asia and Africa, to come into the country without genuine employment contracts.
The “marginalised labour force” is often obliged to take up odd jobs to pay back loan sharks back home who helped them enter the kingdom and their sponsors in Saudi Arabia whose sponsorship was needed.
At times, the labourers absconded from their sponsors and lived illegally in the country.
Saudis have repeatedly warned against the presence of illegal labourers, claiming that they represented a risk threat and “a security bomb” that could detonate at any time.
“I warned against the threat of the increasing number of Ethiopians in the Manfouha neighborhood in Riyadh eight months ago,” Fahad Al Subai, a Riyadh municipality councillor, said.
At least two people were killed in the clashes that broke out in the southern neighborhood. Calm was eventually restored and the area looked calm on Sunday and Monday.
“I believe there are 750,000 Ethiopians in the area and many of them are staying illegally and have been involved in crimes, prostitution and theft. These people simply did not at all acknowledge the Saudi laws and they were so desperate that what happened to them did not matter. They do not want to go home because death under trees in Ethiopia is to them exactly like death in the streets of Manfouha,” he said, quoted by Sabq.