Many immigrant and refugee Syrians resorted to their relatives in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to get their help in alleviating war’s suffering. Today, the story has been reversed.. The long-standing residents, there, started to count on their relatives in Turkey, to find houses and to conduct a feasibility study, to make sure that the shift to the new country would cost them minimum loss.
Aspiring for a legal community, without “violations” or “irregularities,” the Saudi Government has launched a series of campaigns and decrees, which turned the lives of the refugees upside down and restricted their ability to live a life that can at least be called “adequate,” the people who left their country to secure a “decent life” or to escape the war and the raging conflicts.
Fines, labor market restrictions and the impossibility of attaining a residence permit have all succeeded to outset the people from a country, which for decades has been the target for those wishing to make a fortune- the Kingdom was the first destination for people from different parts around the world due to salaries, considered tempting, and low cost of living, which meant the ability to save certain sums of the salaries.
Seeking a “Legal” Community
On the pretext of seeking a “legal” community, the spectacle of restrictions imposed on people who migrated to Saudi Arabia had the greatest impact on Syrians after their numbers have gone beyond the 2.5 million, most of them are long-standing residents, according to the official statistics issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry in 2015, despite human rights doubts about the reality of those figures.
Saudi Arabia started the decrees relating to immigrants when the Ministry of Interior launched a campaign called a “Homeland without Violators,” in March 2017, which included the exemption of the immagrants who violated the rules concerning the residency in exchange for their departure from the country.
The campaign, which ended in July 2017, targeted those who were late in leaving the country and people who do not have residence permit, including the people who entered the Kingdom under a Hajj, ‘Umra, visit or transit visa, as well as those who attained a reported “escape” prior to announcing the campaign.
To Enab Baladi, some residents in the Kingdom assured that the campaign did not overlook Syrians this time as it used to do in the past years.
The original law forbade offenders and transgressors punishing them by deportation and a fine of 15,000 riyals. The fine is doubled, if the concerned person delays in surrendering him/herself, up to 50,000 riyals for the offender and 100,000 for the infiltrator, plus six months imprisonment.
However, this campaign limited the options of Syrians, who have violated the residency system, meaning that they either have to leave Saudi Arabia for limited countries that allow Syrians to enter without visas, return to Syria, or remain non-complaint and avoid being persecuted as much as possible.
At the end of the campaign, Saudi Government has announced that more than 750 thousand non-compliant residents have benefited from the campaign, without specific numbers about Syrians.
Violators’ Children are out of Schools
The security restrictions have reached schools in the Kingdom with the decrees that prevent children, who have violated the residencey system, from attending schools, let them be governmental, private or international, which led parents to enrol their children in non-official or unlicensed schools to avoid persecution.
Even the non-official schools failed to reassure parents and have been affected by security persecution campaigns launched continually by the ministry, according to Mrs. Nihal, a Syrian woman based in the city of Medina.
Nihal, a mother of two, told Enab Baladi, that she was forced to get her children out of a non-official Egyptian school fearing the persecution campaigns implemented by Saudi security men.
“Every day I send my children to school, I remain stressed up until their return. I was afraid of any raid, which forced me to take them out of school threatened to close at any moment,” she added.
Asking her about the possibility to enroll them in other schools, Nihal said that it is impossible regardless of the private and international schools’ tuition fees, which reach thousands of dollars, as even the schools which demand a huge sum of money refuse to receive children, unless they and their parents have a residence permit.
The Companions’ Fees Exhausting Immigrants
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, early July 2017, has imposed monthly fee on the people accompanying people with a residence permit to stay on its territory, regardless of their nationality, which forces immigrants, who work according to a “work visa,” to pay a fee for each person accompanying them even if they were permit holders themselves.
The Saudi government imposed a “simple” fee to be paid by permit holders for their companions, which sum is about 100 riyals (about $26) as a first payment, which will steadily increase, turning into 400 riyals monthly per person by 2020.
Syrian residents expressed their concerns about the decree. In addition to this, some Syrian families, in their interviews with Enab Baladi, confirmed that they intend to leave Saudi Arabia in the period ahead, for they are supposed to pay additional sums of money, as there are thousands of Syrians who have a visit visa.
Since Saudi Arabia has demanded a fee to be paid on account of the immigrants’ companions, many Syrians and people from other nationalities have resorted to self-employment, which the Kingdom describes as “non-compliant labor.”
Aliaa, a Syrian woman based in the city of Riyadh, said that restrictions on immigrants affected Syrians the most due to their lack of choices within the countries of refuge.
She considers the fees imposed on the permit holders a simple part of greater futuristic restrictions, which included the labor market through the Saudi[nization] of different professions when they became limited to Saudi citizens only, in addition to the prices that are on the rise and the imposition of the “added value” tax, according to which the expenses started to exceed the income.
“From Saudi Arabia to Turkey”.. Two Countries Competing in Bitterness
Searching for a lesser degree of harm, Syrians based in Saudi Arabia, even the long-standing ones, started thinking of moving to Turkey to settle down there, in search of attractions lacking in the Kingdom.
Despite the fact that they acknowledge that living in Turkey would not meet their demands, amidst living and legal difficulties, they observe life in Turkey as less harmful.
“This shift to a country that is completely opposite to the country in which they live requires a deep study,” according to Nihal. “The visa’ fee from Saudi Arabia to Turkey is really expensive and may cost them all that they own, which means that they will be starting from scratch in the alternative country”.
Nihal said that the cost of the visa, for her, her husband and two children, to Turkey would reach about 50,000 riyals. However, she assured Enab Baladi that she would leave Saudi Arabia in the next two months to find good educational opportunities for her children and in search of “peace of mind.”
“My husband suggested that he stays in Saudi Arabia while my children and I go back to settle in Syria, but I refused. I believe that Turkey is a better option despite the difficulties of living there,” she added.
As for Aliaa, who also intends to leave to Turkey, heedless of her relatives warnings, “no matter how difficult living in Turkey would be, it would be nothing compared to Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, living in Saudi Arabia is a lot worse than living in Turkey, or even in Syria,” she said.
She pointed out that the Syrian residents in Saudi Arabia, who settled on its territory for decades, are also beginning to think of getting out of it, to a few countries still receiving Syrians.
“Immigrants in Saudi Arabia pay fees and taxes from their savings and not from their monthly income. After a while, they will borrow money to pay, so we have to deal with it by traveling to Turkey.”