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TheStreet Open House

Saudi Migrant Crackdown Closes Shops, Raises Fears

About 40 percent of small construction firms in the kingdom also have stopped work because their foreign workers couldn't get proper visas in time, Khalaf al-Otaibi, president of the World Federation of Trade, Industry and Economics in the Middle East, told Arab News.

Saudis say dozens of businesses like bakeries, supermarkets, gas stations and cafes are now closed. They say prices have also soared for services from mechanics, plumbers and electricians.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that if the kingdom wants to be serious about the problem, authorities should look at the labor laws and not at the workers. Saudi Arabia's sponsorship system, under which foreign laborers work in the kingdom, gives employers say over whether or not a foreigner can leave the country or change jobs, forcing many into illegal employment.

"The entire system by which Saudi Arabia regulates foreign labor is failing," he said.

The owner of a multi-million dollar construction company in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, said he had to halt all of his projects. He told the AP he was not the legal sponsor of most of his laborers but that they made more money working as freelance hires.

"These people have worked in this country and their blood is in the stones and buildings," he said, speaking anonymously for fear of government reprisal. "You cannot just, like that, force them out."

Despite feeling the loss of the everyday work the foreign laborers provided, Saudis largely have cheered on the police. Residents have taken matters into their own hands on several occasions, despite police calling on the public not to make citizen arrests.

Over the weekend, Saudi residents of Riyadh's poor Manfouha neighborhood fought with Ethiopians, detaining some, until police arrived more than two hours later. Video emerged of a crowd of Saudis knocking on the door of an Ethiopian man's house, then dragging him out and beating him in the street. A Saudi and a migrant were killed and dozens wounded in the clashes.

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