Mass expulsions from Saudi Arabia

Yemen's ousted president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday for what is officially described as medical treatment – raising hopes that this will restrict his continued meddling in Yemeni politics. 


Saleh reluctantly stepped down from the presidency last year but, thanks to a parliamentary vote which gave him immunity from prosecution, he continued to live in the Yemeni capital pulling strings behind the scenes. He also remains head of the General People's Congress party which has a large majority in parliament and half the seats in the transitional government. 

In February, the UN Security Council named him, along with southern separatist leader Ali Salim al-Baidh, in connection with "reports of interference" in the country's political transition process.

Reuters quotes Ali al-Sarari, an aide to Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa, as saying:

"Saleh's departure is a cause of relief and his presence [in Yemen] is a source of much worry because he was behind much of the actions that created tension.

"His departure for medical treatment must be followed with an isolation from political life and a prevention from having any influence in political life."

Relief at Saleh's departure may be short-lived, however, as the expulsion of thousands of expatriate workers from Saudi Arabia threatens to plunge Yemen into a new crisis.

Last month, 18,000 Yemenis were reportedly sent home from the kingdom and deportations are said to be continuing at a rate of up to 2,000 a day. 

According to Yemeni officials, the total could eventually reach 200,000-300,000 – causing a loss of remittances and increased unemployment which will add to the country's economic woes.

The expulsions are the result of a change in Saudi labour laws supposedly intended to tackle the kingdom's own unemployment problems. In an article for the Guardian, Ian Black explains:

"The amendment to Saudi Arabia's labour law stipulates that foreign workers are forbidden from running their own business and must remain strictly linked to their original sponsors for all work-related activities ... 

"Many Yemenis have circumvented Saudi sponsorship rules by paying one sponsor/employer while working for another or setting up their own independent businesses."

This is not the first mass expulsion from the kingdom. More than 700,000 Yemenis were abruptly thrown out of Saudi Arabia in 1990, in what was seen as a punishment for Yemen's ambivalent attitute towards the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Meanwhile, Yemen is in the process of expelling migrants from East Africa – mainly Ehtiopians – who have entered the country illegally. The Yemen Times says 2,500 have been deported so far this year.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the number of these migrants in Yemen has doubled from around 53,000 in 2010 to over 107,000 last year. Most of them arrive in Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia but then find their way blocked at the Saudi border. AFP reports:

"The situation of migrants in Yemen is very grim," IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe told reporters ... 

"In Haradh town, which the migrants see as a gateway to Saudi Arabia and beyond, thousands of migrants roam the streets and sleep rough in the open with no money for food or medicine," Jumbe said.

"Many migrants visiting IOM's offices have been rescued from unscrupulous gangs of kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers and are injured, some with broken limbs. Criminal gangs are also reportedly trading in human organs," he added.

In addition, the hospital mortuary in the northern Yemen town of Haradh is now filled with the unclaimed bodies of migrants, he said.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday 3 April 2013