Unwashed cars in Riyadh. (And Jeddah. And Khobar. And Mdina. And…)

The Saudi Arabian Government is deporting illegal immigrants in huge numbers. When I flew home to Abu Dhabi from Riyadh yesterday, there were more coaches than I could count outside Departures; more cardboard boxes and belongings wrapped in blankets than I have ever imagined on the sidewalk outside the terminal; and more lost-looking people being shepherded by more policemen than I ever want to see again. Saudi Airlines has laid on a colossal number of flights and chartered many more. The illegals are going, whether they want to or not (and–for the most part–they don’t want).

Officially, the deportation is to allow the 12% of Saudi nationals who are unemployed to find work. Really, the Government is concerned about the number of foreigners in the country who don’t like them, would rise up against them at the drop of a hat, and may well have been sent to Saudi (by Iran or some other country that wishes the Saudis ill) for exactly that purpose. Some illegals came as pilgrims on Hajj and Umraa visas and stayed on when the pilgrimage was over and the visas had expired. Many more simply walked or drove over this huge country’s long borders–Somalis, Ethiopians, Tanzanians, Kenyans and Yemenis came across from Yemen; others arrived on foot or in a four-by-four by way of Iraq and Jordan or by boat from Syria and Iran.

You can see the result in the state of the cars on the road. Saudis keep their wheels immaculate–but now more than half the cars are covered in dust and dirt because there is no-one to clean them. The cleaners have either been deported or gone into hiding until this latest clampdown is over (and that may take much longer than they hope). It’s the same with truck drivers, almost all of whom are here illegally, and construction labourers. The cost of getting something delivered has at least doubled (if you can get it at all) and building work has ground to a halt.

The dirty car problem, at least, is easily solved I hear you say. The Saudis can wash their own cars. My dear fellow! You must be joking.

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