Saudi's illegal immigrants draw fear of "infiltrators"

Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:19am EDT
 
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By Angus McDowall and Asma Alsharif

JEDDAH (Reuters) - Down a narrow alleyway deep in the Jeddah slum of Karantina, three women from Sudan have set up stalls under colourful parasols, selling peanuts, hibiscus petals, dried pulses, baskets, frankincense, calabashes and sandalwood.

They laugh and gossip in the sunshine, swathed in bright printed cloth, while a scrawny black cat picks its way between piles of rubbish. But when approached by a stranger, they are cautious.

Jeddah has attracted outsiders for centuries, being the main port of arrival for Muslims making the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. It is this history that gives Karantina its name: older residents can remember when it was "quarantine" for pilgrims.

But the people who now live in this slum in the south of Saudi Arabia's second biggest city were drawn not only by religious devotion but also the top oil exporter's wealth. They live in a legal limbo, sometimes for generations.

"This is the forgotten area," said a bearded Sudanese man in his 40s. "Here are many illegal immigrants who don't have official papers. Government supervision is scarce."

Saudi Arabia's hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are not counted among the millions of expatriates who reside legally in the Arab kingdom, working as everything from maids to finance executives.

Instead they live on the margins, ineligible for government services and outside of the law, but often unofficially tolerated because of the expense and administrative obstacles in the way of expelling them.

In recent months, however, their status has caught the attention of Saudi media, who have been calling them "infiltrators" and warning readers of their supposed links to crime, disease and militancy.   Continued...

 
Immigrant women sit on a doorstep in the Jeddah slum of Karantina, February 12, 2013. Jeddah has attracted outsiders for centuries, being the main port of arrival for Muslims making the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. It is this history that gives Karantina its name: older residents can remember when it was "quarantine" for pilgrims. But the people who now live in this slum in the south of Saudi Arabia's second biggest city were drawn not only by religious devotion but also the top oil exporter's wealth. They live in a legal limbo, sometimes for generations. Picture taken February 12, 2013. To match Feature SAUDI-IMMIGRANTS/SLUM REUTERS/Susan Baaghil