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May 2000, Volume 7, Number 5

Middle East

Saudi Arabia. Some 1.3 million pilgrims made the trip to Mecca in 2000, and Saudi Arabia took steps to ensure that they did not remain as foreign workers.

The Saudi Minister of Labor and Social Affairs said that the kingdom is conducting a campaign to streamline jobs in order to provide job opportunities for young Saudi men. Despite the program, the government has no plan to eliminate foreign workers.

According to government figures, 30 percent of the foreign workers are Arabs, primarily from Egypt. Asian workers from Islamic countries in the east such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India account for 60 percent of the labor force. Europeans and Americans compose 10 percent of the foreign work force. The Saudi government says that they could eliminate some foreign workers from the country, but not all.

Amnesty International issued a report in March 2000 that alleged that some people, often foreigners, were put to death after unfair trials in which they were denied defense counsel and in which confessions extorted under torture made up the bulk of the evidence; there were at least 100 executions in 1999.

Kuwait. The Parliament approved the first reading of a bill on April 11 that the Kuwaiti government hopes will encourage Kuwaitis to work in private companies instead of the public sector. The law would set up a fund to pay Kuwaitis unemployment benefits, in addition to the same benefits they would get if they worked in the civil service. The fund will be paid for with a combination of private companies through a 2.5 percent tax on annual profits and higher fees for licenses and work permits, especially for non-Kuwaiti labor.

The Kuwaiti public sector has not been able to absorb the increasing number of high school and university graduates, most of whom seek clerical jobs. There are about 16,000-public sector job applications pending.

Kuwaitis account for around 800,000 of the 2.3 million population. The rest are foreign workers from more than 100 countries.

"Saudi Arabia: Labor minister says nationals to be given job priority," BBC, March 5, 2000.