Jobless and broken, Sudanese electrician Hatem, like countless other illegal workers, is stranded in limbo in Riyadh but he hopes the rapidly spreading coronavirus will offer a chance to escape. Although coronavirus causes a massive exodus of expatriates, campaigners warn hundreds of thousands of illegal workers in Saudi Arabia may potentially remain stranded, complicating efforts to combat the disease.
Campaigners called on Saudi Arabia to reform its long-criticized labor policies and give an amnesty to the country’s trapped poor debt-ridden workers, a situation that risks escalating the pandemic. More than 200,000 infections and nearly 2,000 deaths recorded in Saudi Arabia. Hospital reports suggest that physicians and nurses are among those who die, and that intensive care units stretch beyond reach.
Saudi Arabia provided free coronavirus care to illegal employees in an unprecedented announcement in March, and vowed no retaliation should they come forward for care. But the gesture has been met with skepticism after years of what the staff call heavy-handed treatment by authorities.