Latest News

News of the week

Ethiopians 'surrender' in Saudi after clamp down Ethiopia has complained about the treatment of its citizens in Saudi Arabia.

About 23,000 Ethiopians have surrendered to Saudi authorities since a clampdown on illegal migrant workers began in the oil-rich kingdom last week, officials have said.

The clampdown has led to clashes in the capital, Riyadh, with at least five people killed.

Saudi authorities say they are trying to reduce the 12% unemployment rate among native Saudis.

An estimated nine million migrant workers are in Saudi Arabia.

They are said to make up more than half the workforce, filling manual, clerical and service jobs.

'Hurling rocks'

 Ethiopia's ambassador in Riyadh, Muhammed Hassan Kabiera, said the embassy had been informed by Saudi officials that some 23,000 Ethiopians had so far handed themselves in.

Some of them have already been repatriated, with the first group arriving in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, on Wednesday, reports from Ethiopia say.

In renewed clashes on Wednesday in Riyadh's Manfuhah district, a Sudanese national was killed, Saudi Arabia's state-owned SPA news agency reports.

Illegal migrants "rioted, hurling rocks at passersby and cars", it quoted police as saying.

 Many migrants do low-paid jobs in Saudi Arabia

Police said they intervened and "controlled" the situation, SPA reports.

Manfuhah is home to many migrants, mostly from East Africa.

On Sunday, Ethiopia's Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom said he had information that three Ethiopian citizens had been killed in clashes since last week.

However, Saudi authorities say two foreigners have been killed, along with three Saudis.

Riyadh governor Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz said the clamp down was aimed at illegal migrants, and not any "specific group".

"We will continue these campaigns until we ensure all residents in our country are staying legally," he is quoted by al-Riyadh newspaper as saying.

Earlier this month, the authorities began rounding up the migrants following the expiry of a seven-month amnesty for them to formalise their status.

Nearly a million Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis are estimated to have left the country in the past three months.

More than 30,000 Yemenis have reportedly crossed to their home country in the past two weeks.

Four million other migrants obtained work permits before the deadline expired.


Saudi police in Riyadh clash with migrant workers  Ethiopians are detained in Riyadh's Manfuhah neighbourhood

At least two people have been killed and scores wounded as Saudi police clashed with protesting foreign workers in a district of the capital, Riyadh.

A police statement said hundreds of people were arrested in the Manfuhah neighbourhood.

Later on Sunday, thousands of mostly African workers gathered in the capital to prepare for repatriation.

Last week police rounded up thousands of migrant workers after an amnesty linked to new employment rules expired.

Yemenis return

 One of the two people killed was a Saudi while the other was unidentified, police said. About 70 others were injured and there were some 560 arrests, officials added.

However, Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom said he had information that three Ethiopian citizens had been killed, one last Tuesday and two in the latest clashes.

He said Addis Ababa had formally complained to Riyadh.

"This is unacceptable. We call on the Saudi government to investigate this issue seriously. We are also happy to take our citizens, who should be treated with dignity while they are there," he said.

Police said they intervened on Saturday after foreign workers in the Manfuhah district rioted, attacking Saudi and other foreign residents with rocks and knives.

 Hundreds of foreign workers were leaving the Manfuhah district on Sunday

Vigilante Saudi residents in Manfuhah reportedly joined the fighting and even detained some Ethiopians.

Manfuhah is home to many migrants, mostly from east Africa.

On Sunday, witnesses said police surrounded the district while units from the National Guard and special forces were sent in.

 Hundreds of African migrants reportedly surrendered to police.

A long line of buses took the migrants to temporary housing along the airport road in Riyadh.

Last Monday, the authorities began rounding up thousands of illegal foreign workers following the expiry of a seven-month amnesty for them to formalise their status.

Nearly a million Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis are estimated to have left the country in the past three months.

More than 30,000 Yemenis have reportedly crossed to their home country in the past 10 days alone.

Four million other migrants obtained work permits before last Sunday's deadline.

Saudi Arabia has the Arab world's largest economy, but authorities are trying to reduce the 12% unemployment rate among native Saudis.

An estimated nine million migrant workers are in Saudi Arabia - more than half the workforce - filling manual, clerical, and service jobs.


Sri Lankan housemaids in Saudi appeal for help

By Saroj Pathirana

BBC Sinhala service

 There are numerous reports of abuse and torture of housemaids in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in particular

Continue reading the main story 

"Please, sir... help us to go back to Sri Lanka," one woman after another cries and pleads over the phone from a detention centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

I cannot see these women but I hear them fighting to reach the mobile phone that belongs to the inmate that I am on the phone with. Thangavelu Sarojini, a young Tamil woman, says she was tortured by her employer.

"I still have wounds and scars in my hands, neck, legs. They beat me, pinched me and burnt me," she says from the Olaya detention camp where hundreds of migrant women from south and southeast Asia are held.  Their crime, they say, was running away from employers to escape physical, sexual or psychological abuse. They are all now classified as illegal immigrants under Saudi law.

"I was not paid for one-and-a-half years, they tried to kill me, then I fled to the embassy," Sarojini tells me.

Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan women arrive in the Middle East every year and they are a major foreign revenue earner for the island. But many claim to be ill-treated, tortured, or not paid for the work.

In one notorious case in August 2010, 24 nails were removed from the body of LP Ariyawathie, a 49-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker in Saudi. Saudi authorities have pledged to investigate her case but there has been no reported progress in the investigation.

 'Imprisoned and unpaid'

But it is not only physical abuse that forced these hapless women to flee their employers.

 About 24 nails were removed from LP Ariyawathie's body after arriving in Sri Lanka in August 2010

Kusuma Nandani, a mother-of-two who has not returned to Sri Lanka since 1993, says she was not paid by her employer for at least 15 years.

She says that she suffered stress and depression because her employers did not allow her to keep in touch with her husband, son and daughter in Sri Lanka.

As Kusuma Nandani cannot read or write, she was was only able to write a few letters - and then only with the help of other Sri Lankans.

One day, she was told by the employer that she would not be paid anymore after she forgot to hand over pocket money to the children before dropping them off at school.

From then, she says she was imprisoned by her employers for more than a decade. Rescued by the Sri Lankan embassy officials in Riyadh in 2009 after a tip-off, she has been a detainee at the camp since then.

Her daughter says she is puzzled as to why the Sri Lankan embassy authorities have not been able to send her mother home even though Kusuma was granted an exit visa some time ago.

“I have no one in Sri Lanka. My parents are gone, my husband is trying to divorce me, I have only daughter who doesn't know who to approach to get help”

WG Mala Mangalika is another maid who fled alleged ill-treatment. She says she was told to work without pay for more than a year because her employer paid a Sri Lankan agency nearly 7,000 riyal ($1,866).

Now she is facing a lawsuit filed by the employer.

"The employer says he has paid to the agency for four years so he would not allow me to go back," says Mala Mangalika.

Detention centre inmates say that although Sri Lankan officials helped when they first arrived at the embassy, they are concerned about the delay in sending them back home.

Apart from those in the camp, hundreds more abused maids are currently staying in an embassy hostel.

Their plight is worsened because they become illegal immigrants as soon as they leave their employers, the legal "sponsor" for their work permits.

 Migrant domestic workers, mainly from South Asia, regularly complain of abuse by employers

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has long been campaigning for more protection for domestic workers in the Middle East and has called for migrant domestic workers to be included into local labour laws so that they are better protected.

Reform needed

"My legs are still swollen and blackened after I fell from upstairs," Mala Senananayake weeps as she grabs the phone from others in the queue in Olaya camp, in Saudi Arabia.

"I have no one in Sri Lanka. My parents are gone, my husband is trying to divorce me, I have only daughter who doesn't know who to approach to get help."

"Please sir, please help me to go back to Sri Lanka," she repeatedly begs me.

The labour officer at the Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh told the BBC that the files of the detainees at Olaya camp have been transferred to the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLFEB) in Colombo.

But SLFEB head Kingsley Ranawaka did not answer repeated telephone calls to get a response.

In an open letter to the governments of Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, HRW urged them to "ensure a timely and comprehensive response" to alleged abuse and implement "systemic reforms to prevent such abuses in future".

It has urged Saudi Arabia to "prosecute alleged perpetrators, allow victims to return to their home countries before the trial and seek both criminal penalties and financial compensation".

It also wants the cancellation of the Kafala system that requires the consent of the employer to repatriate migrant workers.

The BBC has had no response from the media office of the embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.


Google: Govt Requests for User Data Up 100+ Percent Since 2010

By Chloe Albanesius

  November 14, 2013 10:05am EST

Google today released its latest transparency report with details about government requests for user data, which the search giant said have increased by more than 100 percent since it started releasing these reports in 2010.

"This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before," Google said in a blog post. "And these numbers only include the requests we're allowed to publish."

Google and its rivals are not allowed to publish specific details about national security-related requests. In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, Google and others pushed the government for permission to publish this data. Thus far, the feds have only allowed for data to be published in ranges of 1,000 but Google today reiterated that it believes it should be able to publish more accurate data.

 "Our promise to you is to continue to make this report robust, to defend your information from overly broad government requests, and to push for greater transparency around the world," Google said.

Today's report, meanwhile, covers data requests made in the first six months of 2013. In total, Google fielded 25,879 requests for user data from law enforcement officials around the world. U.S. officials accounted for 10,918 of those requests, 83 percent of which were honored.

This report - the search giant's eighth - includes additional information about legal process for U.S. criminal requests: breaking out emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders, and other court orders. About 68 percent of U.S. requests were subpoenas, 22 percent were warrants, 6 percent were other court orders, 2 percent were pen register orders, and 1 percent were emergency disclosure requests.

Coming in at No. 2 was India with 2,691 requests, followed by Germany with 2,311 and France with 2,011. The U.K. and Brazil also had about 1,200.


 Egypt's message to the US: We've got Russia

Russian officials are in Cairo today, reportedly to negotiate an arms deal. The US suspended some of its annual military aid to Egypt last month.

 By Chelsea Sheasley, Staff writer / November 14, 2013

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks to his counter part Nabil Fahmy, foreground, during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Egypt’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Russia was too important to be a substitute for the United States as Cairo’s foreign ally and backer.

Once-cool relations between Russia and Egypt are quickly warming as Russian officials visit Cairo today to reportedly negotiate an arms deal worth up to $2 billion.

The visit – which Egyptian paper Al-Wafd hailed as “historic” – is the highest-level meeting between Russian and Egyptian officials in years, reports the BBC, and it comes shortly after President Barack Obama cut reduced aid to the Egyptian government following a July military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The Russian visit sends “a strong political message that stresses the desire” of Russia “to bolster relations and cooperate with Egypt in all fields,” Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Bloomberg by phone today.

 Egypt is seeking MiG-29 fighter planes, air-defense systems, and anti-tank missiles, Ruslan Pukhov, a member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s advisory board and head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, told Bloomberg.

RECOMMENDED: Monitor Frontier Markets Free Trial. Intelligent analysis on events in frontier/emerging countries.

Concurrent with the meetings, the Russian military is sending their flagship cruiser Varyag on a six-day visit to Alexandria. It will be the first Russian warship to visit Egypt since 1992.

Both Russian and Egyptian officials stressed that their meeting wasn’t meant to “replace” other countries, according to the Egyptian paper Ahram:   [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov described the meeting as "very fruitful" and said collaboration between Cairo and Moscow had a long history going back to the 1950s.

He denied, however, that Russia was striving to replace "any country" - a reference to the US -  as Egypt's key strategic partner.

[Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil] Fahmy confirmed that Egypt is not looking for a "substitute for anyone."

Yasser El-Shimy, an Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group, told Reuters that the visit is meant to send a message to Washington:

"It's meant to send a message to say Egypt has options, and that if the United States wishes to maintain its strategic alliance with Egypt, it will have to drop the conditions it attaches to the military aid.”

The US sends $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt annually, but announced on Oct. 9 that it would suspend shipment of tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopters, missiles, and $260 million in cash until Egypt demonstrated improvements in democracy and human rights.

The question of whether the US will resume aid lingers over the potential Russian deal, as Reuters notes:

Washington has said it would consider resuming some of the suspended aid depending on Egypt's progress in following the interim government's plans to hold elections - a plan the government says it is committed to seeing through.

Seeking to mend fences with Egypt, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy during a Nov. 3 visit to Cairo.

A Western diplomat in Cairo said the prospect of the United States resuming aid early next year was one factor diminishing the chances of a major new defense deal with Moscow.

Another unanswered question is how Egypt would pay for the new arms. A key source of funding is likely the Gulf, Bloomberg reports:

Egyptian officials are seeking financing from an unidentified Persian Gulf country to buy as much as $4 billion of Russian arms, Palestinian newspaper Dunia al-Watan reported Nov. 6, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged at least $12 billion to Egypt’s new government.

“The only issue is Egypt’s ability to pay,” Igor Korotchenko, [a] member of the Defense Ministry’s advisory board, said by phone from Moscow. “Russia is prepared to supply a wide range of arms to meet Egypt’s requirements.”

Russia and Egypt had close ties until a few years before Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979, which opened the door to substantial US aid over the next three decades.