The Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah has issued Emergency Travel Certificates, ETC, to 45 Nigerians in Saudi Arabia to help them return home after the Saudi authorities began a clampdown on illegal immigrants three weeks ago.
The Nigerian Consul General in Jeddah, Ahmed Umar, made this known via a telephone interview, on Sunday, in Abuja.
Mr. Umar said that the names and identity of the affected Nigerians had been dispatched to the Foreign Ministry in Abuja.
He disclosed that the Saudi authorities had arrested 526 Nigerians since the three-month amnesty given to undocumented immigrants to regularise their stay ended.
“It is not peculiar to Nigerians; it is applicable to all nationalities,” he explained.
Mr. Umar dismissed reports that Nigerians detained in the country were kept in inhumane conditions at detention centres.
According to him, some of the detained Nigerians were being kept at the general services centre in Al-Shumaisi near Mecca, equipped with modern facilities.
He recalled that prior to the clampdown on illegal immigrants, the Saudi authorities had taken some foreign consular representatives to the centre.
Mr. Umar said that he had deployed some staff of the Nigerian Consulate to the centre to identify Nigerians, collect their bio-data and issue travel documents for their deportation.
He explained that the new law in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stipulated a ban of 10 years for illegal workers deported from the country.
Mr. Umar said that some Nigerians living in the country had ignored repeated appeals by the Consulate for them to regularise their stay since the Saudi government announced the clampdown early in the year.
“We have been talking to our people and organising town hall meetings on the need for them to come forward and regularise their papers or leave the country. But our people became very adamant and complacent,” he said.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abubakar Bunu, also said that an estimated one million Nigerians lived and worked in the country, although it remained unknown how many were illegal.
He observed that not many Nigerians had come forward to seek consular help since the crackdown began and warned that those staying in the country illegally could face arrest and detention if caught.
He appealed to Nigerians living in Saudi Arabia without proper documentation to approach the Nigerian embassy in Riyadh, or its consulate in Jeddah, for proper identification.
“We need to know their local government and states, and forward same to the Saudi authorities for the issuance of ETC and make other arrangements for them to return home.
“It is better to go home in honour than to be caught and made to face severe consequences,” he said during a telephone interview.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government has said it would defray the cost of deporting illegal foreign workers to their respective countries.