A very tiny, narrow and uncomfortable gravel passage that leads from Totot Kitfo to Imperial Hotel around the area commonly known as Gerji in Bole Sub City has never been as busy as it was last week. And that will be true for the next several days as victims of the recent crackdown on immigrants by Saudi Arabia’s government continue to return home.
Several months back, the Saudi government put a deadline for illegal migrants to legalize their residence in the country claiming it wanted to organize labor markets and create job opportunities for locals.
After the four month long deadline, the government reportedly planed to deport about nine million people and send them back to their countries of origin.
A day after the deadline -November 3- the government of Saudi Arabia started taking measures. The measures, however, includes very allegedly hostile, violent and illegal measures on poor immigrants. This claimed the lives of three Ethiopians, among others.
The fate of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi
According to Tedros Adhanom (Dr.), Ethiopian migrants like other immigrants living in Saudi Arabia were due to go through the process that the Saudi government obliged immigrants to.
Both the Ethiopian government and the Saudi government speculated that there are about 40,000 illegal Ethiopian migrants in Saudi, according to the minister.
The Ethiopian consular in Saudi and two other embassies have been facilitating the legalization process, according to Tedros. As a result, he said, more than 38,000 Ethiopians immigrants have gone through the legalization process.
Tedros said that the government was aware of the fact that there were immigrants that couldn’t go through the process because they entered the country illegally. “Those who went to Saudi via water transport cannot be legalized residents because their entry was illegal in accordance with Saudi’s rules,” he explained. “So we expected 5,000 people to be deported from Saudi and Yemen,” he said. According to the minister, most of these people were expected to be from Yemen, not from Saudi. “Nevertheless, only 329 people took the opportunity to come back to their country.”
The plan also failed because the Saudi government said that 23,000 Ethiopians were to be deported. The situation became tougher because the Saudi government started taking action the next day after the deadline, according to Tedros.
Tedros described the incident as a “flash flood” as the number wasn’t expected to rise as dramatically as it did.
In a bid to cope with the increased number of deportees, the government started increasing the number of people brought in per day from tens to hundreds in just a few days with a plan to send the 23,000 Ethiopians back home in less than 20 days. This is being done via the Ethiopian Consular in Saudi and two Ethiopian embassies in nearby countries.
Unfortunately, the Saudi government, again, increased the number of people to be deported to 40,000 and later to 50,000 - 80,000, according to the minister.
“So far, 16,248 Ethiopians, including legal immigrants, have come back and we expect the number to reach 19,000 tonight,” said Tedros on Friday afternoon. Up to 6,000 or even more people are expected to come back home on the following days, according to Tedros.
Many are criticizing the government of Ethiopia for different reasons related to the incident.
Some are claiming that the government’s embassy in Saudi hasn’t done its task efficiently and effectively. Many of the diaspora say in social media that the government should have efficiently and effectively worked on legalizing its nationals who had migrated to Saudi. This view is also shared by the media in Saudi Arabia.
Others say the government should have facilitated the deportation earlier so as to avoid the situation turning violent. Others still say it should have used its friendly relations with the Saudi government to buy some time, get assistance and bring its citizens home without harm.
Tedros downplays all the claims, however.
Not only for this incident but also as a general move to fight illegal migration, the government has established two years ago a National Council to fight human trafficking and illegal migration.
The National Council, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and comprising 13 line ministries, chiefs of various administrations, federal institutions, the media, and religious institutions, among others, has been working on four focus areas. “One of these focus areas is creating awareness among the society so that they can be convinced that they can work here in their home country and change their life,” he said. Another focus was facilitating a legal process for those who are going out, according to the Minister. Making sure citizen’s rights and benefits are met and stopping illegal migration are the other focus areas of the national council.
And in response to this sorrowful incident, the government organized a task force that works on the legalization process and bringing its citizens home.
He said that immigrants showed little or no interest to come back to their country for their own varied reasons. “The people I talked to believed that the Saudi government wouldn’t realize the plan,” he said. Others were saying they were afraid of coming back home without having ample money.
Furthermore, the government facilitated the deportation as early as possible, according to him. “The government hasn’t been late in doing what is at its disposal,” he said.
He explained that, though it has been challenged with time and an unexpected increase in the number of deportees, the government’s effort to bring citizens home is huge.
The human rights violation exerted on its citizens hasn’t been ignored as well, according to him. “We requested the Saudi embassy in Ethiopia for clarification on the issue. We also requested an in-depth investigation from the Saudi government,” he said.
The Saudi government had said that the death of one Ethiopian came after the immigrants went out to protest violently, according to him. “The first Ethiopian killed by the police was allegedly trying to snatch the rifle of a policeman. Then the policeman reflexively pulled the trigger,” is the Saudi governments report. Tedros said because the government of Ethiopia isn’t convinced by that, it has requested further investigation.
“We need to prioritize what should be done first,” said Dina Mufti, Spokesperson of MoFA, on a regular press briefing held on Tuesday November 19. “The first priority should be taking citizens out of this tough situation as soon as possible, bringing them back to their homeland, and reintegrating them with their family as well as the society,” he told journalists.
“A government has emotion just like individuals, as government is made up of a group of people,” Dina said. “What is different is that it cannot be driven by this emotion,” he said. “The government has focused on the issue as per the priority.”
The priority for the government is bringing home its citizens, and then follows the integration with their family and society. It has committed a 50 million birr budget for the repatriation process.
With all this effort however, videos on social media are showing Ethiopian women, including those with health problems and those who are pregnant, children, and youngsters, screaming for help from the government for the earliest access to the process of getting back home.
The minister said regional governments are also working in line with the federal government’s plan to reintegrate the returnees. Furthermore, the private sector is said to be lending a hand in hosting returnees.
For Tedros, most of the people who are criticizing the government are sincere but a bit sensational with the sorrow they feel for their brothers and sisters. “However, there are those who are using this bad fate of our sisters and brothers for their own political agenda,” he said. He described this as “un-Ethiopian manner”.
The world is condemning what the Saudi government is doing to immigrants in its territory. Many are saying that, though it is a sovereign government, it cannot mistreat immigrants. Mistreatments including beatings, intimidations, rape, and even killings are being reported on every social media.
They say the government should have at least considered international laws of human rights, if not respecting humanity by itself.
A writer and political commentator named Nasser al-Omari said that the raid only shows KSA’s [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] disgrace in terms of its respect for international laws of human rights. He said the kinds of jobs that Ethiopians are doing in Saudi are not wanted by locals. He said that job creation can in no way be a reason for the crackdown.
He noted that it is a mere violation of international laws and regulations on human rights.
Outcome of the incident
Whatever the objective of the crackdown is [on Saudi’s side] their government appreciates the campaign. But the outcome of the campaign is generating hatred and leaving the streets of Saudi littered with garbage as cleaning them was one of the jobs done by immigrants, according to reports. This makes Nasser al-Omari’s argument that the deportation of these immigrants would harm Saudi’s economy seem quite accurate.
An eye for an eye?
The world is touched and disappointed by the cruelty of the Saudi government. People in the four corners of the world are condemning this action.
The disappointment and sorrow is surely higher for Ethiopians both living overseas and at home. That is why they are holding protests around the embassies of Saudi Arabia all around the world. They have condemned the reported abuses of their fellow nationals.
A ‘protest against the action’ was also organized here in Addis Ababa around the Saudi Embassy. Nevertheless, it was reportedly interrupted by the police immediately, calling it an unlawful organization, as described by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).
The arrogance and ignorance of the Saudi government seems to have tested the patience of some of the hospitable people of Ethiopia as they proposed the same kind of action be taken against Saudi nationals in Ethiopia.
Both the government and the people haven’t gotten to the point where they are willing to take the same measure in order to entertain their anger and disappointment. This shows that Ethiopians are more into patience, if not mercy and forgiveness, than the laws of Hammurabi -an eye for an eye