By Tadesse Yimer
Up to 50,000 Ethiopians have been deported from Saudi Arabia in the past three weeks as part of a crackdown on illegal workers.
Thousands of Egyptians, Indonesians, Malaysians and others have also been flown out of the country as the Saudi government seeks to create jobs for local people by deporting some of the estimated nine million foreign workers.
An amnesty for people working in the country without proper permits expired on November 4 and, since then, planes have been taking off around the clock to get the workers to their home countries.
The crackdown has involved tens of thousands of people being rounded up and has led to disturbances in which three Ethiopians have been killed. Almost one million illegal workers had left voluntarily over the past few months.
Saudi Arabia may be one of the richest countries in the world but it has an unemployment rate of 12.5% in a population of 27 million.
The Government not only wishes to get more locals into the workforce, it also wants to diversify the economy.
Interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is overseeing the operation and says the campaign has “so far led to the deportation of more than 60,000 violators of the residency and labour system, while procedures are on-going to deport others”.
The Government chartered 70 planes just to deport Ethiopians, who are thought to constitute the biggest group of people leaving.
The foreign ministry in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, said it expected the final total, once the airlift had finished, to be 80,000.
Foreign minister Tedros Adhanom said the government was in “around the clock crisis management” to help get its citizens home.
A majority of them are thought to be women who were employed as domestic workers.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, and also one of the poorest. This leads large numbers of its 91 million citizens to leave to try to find work abroad, many in the Middle East.
There are consistent and numerous reports alleging the ill treatment of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, especially those from developing countries.
In many cases, people’s passports are taken from them when they begin a job.
This has exacerbated the problem of illegal working, as employees sometimes simply keep the worker on, but do not bother to return their passport, or fill in the correct paperwork.
Posted by Tadesse Yimer