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08RIYADH894 2008-06-08 14:54:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Riyadh
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1. (C) SUMMARY. Per Reftel, post delivered demarche regarding
the release of the 2008 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report
to Saudi MFA via diplomatic note on June 4, with a subsequent
meeting by Acting Political Counselor with MFA International
Organizations Department Deputy Director Abul Aziz al-Wasel
on June 8 to follow up on this issue. The Saudis responded
with an explanation that most of the issues involving human
trafficking in the Kingdom result from Hajj overstayers, not
SAG policy or collusion. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The TIP report's conclusion was amicably accepted by
Al-Wasel, even though it placed Saudi Arabia in the Tier 3
category - the least favorable. He countered that the SAG
does not condone or endorse human trafficking, and that the
Kingdom has strict labor laws, claiming what abuses do occur
are due to criminal elements, not by the SAG.

3. (U) Al-Wasel explained that the vast majority of human
trafficking in Saudi Arabia results not from illegal or
forced importation of people to Saudi Arabia, but is due to
the hundreds of thousands of Hajj overstayers each year
(Note: three million Muslims perform the annual Hajj, MOI
estimates that each year 10% - 300,000 - overstay and remain
in Saudi Arabia to work in any capacity, legal or illegal).
Al-Wasel continued that one of the five pillars of Islam is
for all Muslims to perform the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage
to Mecca - at least once in their life. The SAG, as the
responsible entity for Mecca and Medina, Islam's two most
holy sites, can not deny entry to Muslims who want to perform
their religious duty. The SAG issues entry visas each year
to millions who want to make the Hajj pilgrimage, regardless
of the fact that the economic situation in their home
countries makes these pilgrims quite likely to overstay their
Hajj visas to find illegal employment in Saudi Arabia. It is
for this reason that he attributes the incidence of human
trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

4. (C) Al-Wasel asked that this fact be considered in future
reports. He cordially concluded by saying that the U.S. and
Saudi Arabia share many common interests, especially
regarding security and energy, and opined that while the TIP
report was unfavorable to the Kingdom, it would not adversely
impact our relationship if both nations kept it in the
context of our broad bilateral interests.