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Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Saudis Remain in Limbo Back Home
« on: January 09, 2014, 08:24:26 PM »
Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Saudis Remain in Limbo Back Home

Mohammed Jemal, forefront, returning home after being deportated from Saudi Arabia. Benno Muechler

LEGUAMA, Ethiopia — Mohammed Jemal left Ethiopia two years ago. He wanted to be independent, to support his family — and
to escape the mockery of having squandered a big chance for a better life.

“I went to college and dropped out. I somehow failed,” he said. If he had gone back home and started a simple life with a
poorly paid job, he said, “people would have called my family names.”

So, like many Ethiopians, Mr. Mohammed left his small, rural hometown in central Ethiopia to seek his fortune in Saudi
Arabia. He entered the country illegally, he said, having walked most of the way through Djibouti and Yemen. Once he got
there, he said, he worked as a guard and receptionist.

Despite the many challenges, the money was worth it, he recalled thinking, until he was tossed out of the country in a
mass deportation in which nearly a million people who had entered the country illegally from Africa, the Middle East and
elsewhere in Asia were pushed out of Saudi Arabia last year, according to the International Labor Organization.

For decades, rich Arab countries in the Middle East have been a major destination for migrant workers from developing
nations. Deportations have happened before, but the scale of the recent expulsions from Saudi Arabia is virtually
unheard-of, the labor organization said.

About 150,000 Ethiopians have been forced out of the country. Their expulsion puts the Ethiopian government under strain
because the remittances they sent greatly contributed to the country, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing
economies but is still very poor.

Now, as Mr. Mohammed rode a bus past the mountains of his native country, old worries returned to his mind. On the bus
with him were about 50 other Ethiopians who had also recently been deported from Saudi Arabia, most of them silent as
they crossed the Ethiopian highlands into an uncertain future.

When Mr. Mohammed got off the rickety blue bus and took his luggage down from the roof, a group of friends and family
gathered around, hugging him. Many of them had also returned from Saudi Arabia. In fact, one resident said, almost all
the youths of Leguama, a town of 5,000, had left because of poverty and had now come back.

Mr. Mohammed’s father, Jemal Endris, waited in front of his house, kissed his son on the cheeks and said softly,
“Alhamdulillah,” Arabic for “Praise be to God.” Ethiopia is a largely Christian country, but Leguama, which is about 100
miles north of the nearest big city, is Muslim, as is the rest of the area.

The family’s sparsely furnished mud house was no bigger than 322 square feet. The family had built it with the money Mr.
Mohammed had sent from Saudi Arabia. Some mattresses lay in the living room. A bulb gave off a dim light at night. There
was a bed in the next room. In the front, the father had created a small sewing room. The river behind the house served
for washing and doing laundry.

“Obviously, all this is a big problem,” said the father, a farmer like most people here, where there are not many other
options. “The remittances were the pillar of our living.” Without jobs, factories and better infrastructure, he said, people will continue to leave. His second son, Endris, had already thought about it but remained torn about the decision.

Many things in Leguama were built with money from the sons and daughters in Saudi Arabia: houses, shops, four mosques, a
school. The community has collected money for an ambulance, but it does not know if the project will still be realized.
Mr. Mohammed’s mother, Zemzem Oumer, is not as worried about the future as his father.

“Even if you have money, you always worry,” she said. “We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
She said she had been to Saudi Arabia before Mr. Mohammed traveled there. She went as a pilgrim to Mecca, stayed
illegally, worked as a maid and returned only when her husband told her that he could not raise the children by himself
any longer.
She lived through some of the horror stories many Ethiopians tell. Sometimes she did not get food, and sometimes she was
locked away. Mr. Mohammed said he had been insulted. Other migrants said they had been beaten and often not paid. Reports
of rapes of young Ethiopian women set off protests against the mass deportation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, in
early November. Three Ethiopians died in clashes with the police.

The Ethiopian government has stated that diplomatic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia will remain unchanged. It is
one of the biggest foreign investors in Ethiopia apart from China, Turkey and India. According to the Ethiopian
government, Saudi businesspeople have $369 million involved in Ethiopia.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s image will be damaged, said Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, director of the Institute for Peace and
Security Studies in Addis Ababa, the capital.

“They could show some sort of solidarity, some sort of sympathy to what has happened to these migrant workers,” he said.
“These people were not living for free in Saudi Arabia. They were just working. They were actually doing the dirty jobs
for the Saudis.”

Mr. Mulugeta hopes that his countrymen will stop trying to leave Ethiopia for supposedly better horizons. After paying
for higher costs of living in Saudi Arabia, some migrants do not earn much more than they would in Ethiopia, he said. The
transit is dangerous and costly, too. And life away from family and friends is hard.

Still, the desire to leave remains high for many. Mr. Mohammed said he had earned $780 a month in Saudi Arabia. The
annual per capita income in Ethiopia is about $390, according to the World Bank.

Saudi Arabia also expelled 400,000 Yemenis, as well as people from India, Sudan, Somalia and Egypt. They worked in
construction and as maids, shepherds and cleaners. Their mass deportation was part of a nationalization program of the
Saudi labor sector. Azfar Khan, a senior migration specialist for the Arab states at the International Labor Organization, said the program was a product of the Saudi government’s fear of an Arab Spring. Nine million people, a
third of Saudi Arabia’s population, are foreign workers.

The Ethiopian government has allocated $2.6 million to help migrants reintegrate. The fund supports those who have some
savings left and want to start a small business. But the government expected only about 30,000 returnees. Their number
increased fivefold.

“We believe there won’t be any social disaster,” said Dina Mufti, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, “because this is a vibrant economy which is growing.”

Mr. Khan, however, saw a risk of social upheaval if reintegration of the returnees failed. “It has happened in a latter
kind of situation in Tunisia, for example, when the fellow burned himself and set himself on fire,” Mr. Khan said,
referring to Mohamed Bouazizi, the young fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire in December 2010 and sparked the
Arab Spring. “I mean, what was he complaining about? It was essentially that they don’t have any jobs, they couldn’t
generate an income.”

Many of the returnees are frustrated. Urban unemployment in Ethiopia, a country of almost 90 million, is at 17.5 percent.
Mr. Mohammed said he wanted to go back to college. He does not see a future in Leguama. It was his mother’s savings from
Saudi Arabia that had allowed him to study physical education; the savings were used up when she became sick with kidney
and gastric problems and needed treatment. He blamed himself and left to earn money.

“If there is a safe way to go back to Saudi Arabia in the legal system, this is an option,” he said.

 Correction: January 8, 2014 
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that nearly a million people were deported en masse from Saudi
Arabia, according to the International Labor Organization. It was 2013, not this year.[/size]
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 08:29:52 PM by staff3 »