Deportations were attributed to visa violations, crime and security concerns linking the deportees to terror organizations.
Saudi Arabia has deported almost 40,000 Pakistanis in the last four months on grounds of security, reflecting hardening stance towards its traditional ally.
A leading Saudi paper, Saudi Gazette, reported last week that over 39,000 Pakistanis have been deported from Saudi Arabia during the period.
This is the first time that Riyadh has taken such a step in dealing with a section of Pakistani nationals it claims could be involved in acts of terror.
The Gulf nation’s strong action comes in the backdrop of its improving strategic tie with India and the onset of Donald Trump’s presidency in the US. Earlier this month, Kuwait banned would-be immigrants from five Muslim majority nations including Pakistan from applying for visa.
Saudi Arabia, after the UAE, is emerging a key counter-terror partner for India in the Gulf, with the richest state in that region feeling heat of radical and terror groups. The Saudi King is also expected to visit Delhi this year as the oil-rich kingdom also eyes major economic opportunities in both hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon sectors.
The deportations of Pakistani nationals were attributed to visa violations, crime and security concerns linking the deportees to terror organisations.
The Saudi Gazette, citing “informed security sources”, reported that a number of the Pakistanis deported were linked to the Daesh group or other terrorist activities.
The Gazette, quoting sources, claimed that the involvement of a number of Pakistani nationals in some terrorist actions orchestrated by Daesh or the Islamic State is a cause of ‘public and societal worry’.
Other Pakistanis were deported over crimes including drug trafficking, theft, forgery and physical assault. In comparison, Indians are the preferred workforce across the six Gulf states, persons familiar with the expatriate issue told ET.
News of the deportations follows intermittent reports of migrant worker protests over unpaid salaries, after the increasing strain on Saudi public finances due to the downturn in oil prices in recent years.
But the deportation of Pakistani workers has been driven primarily by security concerns, according to the Saudi Gazette report. Saudi officials have called for a rigorous vetting process before allowing foreign workers into the kingdom.
Abdullah Al-Sadoun, chairman of the security committee in the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, urged for tougher screening process of Pakistani nationals before they are allowed entry into the country.
“Pakistan itself is plagued with terrorism due to its close proximity with Afghanistan. The Taliban extremist movement was itself born in Pakistan,” he said. This is probably the first time that Riyadh has recognised that Taliban receives active support from Islamabad. Ironically, Saudi Arabia was among the three countries that recognised the Taliban government in Kabul between 1996 and 2001.
Al-Sadoun stressed that the religious and political beliefs of Pakistani nationals must be known to Saudi authorities before they are granted work or given entry into the kingdom.
Quoting the Saudi interior ministry, the Gazette said 82 Pakistanis are currently in intelligence prisons for suspected terror and security-related issues. As many as 15 Pakistanis, including a woman, were nabbed following the recent terrorist operations in Al-Harazat and Al-Naseem districts in Jeddah.
“Last year, the Saudi security forces had foiled a terror plot in which two Pakistanis were held for plotting to explode Al-Jawhara Stadium in Jeddah where more than 60,000 spectators had gathered to watch a soccer match between the national teams of the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates,” the Gazette reported.
Last week, about 153 deported Pakistanis from Saudi Arabia reached Lahore on a special flight. The deportees included 148 men and five women.