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Saudi Decision Threatens to Plunge Millions More Yemenis Into Extreme Poverty
(John187/WIkimedia Commons)

Saudi Decision Threatens to Plunge Millions More Yemenis Into Extreme Poverty

Riyadh decides to cut the number of foreign workers in the kingdom

Ibrahim al-Nahari, 37, works in a mobile phone shop in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Asir Province and has resided there legally for 12 years.

Today, Nahari is under threat of losing his job and being deported to his hometown in the Raymah Governorate of Yemen due to a new Saudi regulation placing limits on the percentage of Yemeni, Indian, Bangladeshi and Ethiopian workers at establishments in four provinces near the border with Yemen, in an effort to reduce the unemployment rate of 11.7% among Saudi citizens, and out of security considerations.

Nahari said he received a notice from his employer informing him of the new rules and that he could be laid off and deported at any time.

“I do not know what the problem is,” he told The Media Line about the surprise government decision. “I have been working here for 12 years; everyone knows me and they became my friends here.”

“I am afraid that I will not get another job. I fear that poverty will strike my family if I return to Yemen,” Nahari said.

I found, in my work in the kingdom, an opportunity to escape the poverty that was knocking on my door because of the war in Yemen

Dr. Fouad al-Baadani (not his real name) is a Yemeni academic who has been working at Saudi Arabia’s Najran University for the past three years along with more than a hundred other Yemeni academics and staff.

“I don’t mind the kingdom taking any measure that guarantees its security, but we reside here on a legal basis and we were recruited from Yemeni universities to teach here, and we wind up getting treated in this way,” he told The Media Line.

Riyadh should study the matter and be aware of the problems that many thousands of Yemeni families will suffer because of the decision, Baadani said.

A decree to banish Yemeni labor

Nahari and Baadani are two out of nearly 700,000 Yemenis who could be deported if the decision is fully implemented, according to preliminary statistics compiled by activists along with the Ministry of Expatriate Affairs in the Houthi-controlled de facto authority (DFA) in the north of Yemen.

The above figure could easily rise due to the current lack of accurate and updated lists of the Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed al-Nuwaira, foreign relations officer in the Ministry of Human Rights in Yemen’s internationally recognized government, told The Media Line, “The decree is not official yet, but employers notified the Yemeni workers in four southern provinces [Asir, Najran, Al-Bahah, Jizan] that there are orders to cancel the work contracts with them and deport them within a period not exceeding four months.”

The decision could harm more than five million Yemenis who are entirely dependent on the remittances sent by Yemeni laborers in Saudi Arabia, Nuwaira said.

A politically charged decree

Waheeb al-Qadi, an official in the internationally recognized government’s Ministry of Expatriate Affairs in Aden, believes that the Saudi decision came due to the military operations of the De Facto Authorities (DFA), or Houthi, forces on the Yemen-Saudi border, and that the kingdom is seeking, through this regulation, to secure its borders from any breach that might be committed by Yemeni workers.

Qadi added that the decision would harm Yemenis’ standard of living, “especially since this decision may apply to, according to preliminary statistics from the Ministry [of Expatriate Affairs], more than 800,000 Yemeni workers in these provinces and therefore the damage will affect at least three million members of their families in Yemen.”

Qadi also said that most of these families depend entirely on their relatives who work in Saudi Arabia.

Tawfiq al-Humaidi, president of the Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties, agrees.

The regulatory change has a discriminatory dimension, because there is information indicating that Yemeni laborers are being replaced by workers of other nationalities, Humaidi told The Media Line.

The SAM organization released a statement saying that “the consequences of the current decision mean more people lose their source of livelihood at a time when Yemen is witnessing a sharp decline in economic and social indicators,” and warning of “the possibility of a new crisis after the deportation of these workers, especially since most of their families depend on them to obtain most of their basic requirements.”

Reoccurring economic crisis

Eman Abdullah, a journalist for SABA, the Yemen state news agency for the DFA, or Houthis, told The Media Line the Saudi decision would have no less impact than the crisis of 1990-1991, when Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemeni laborers and other Arab Gulf states followed suit in retribution for the country’s support of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.

“The State [of Yemen] represented by the internationally recognized government must communicate with the Saudi government to resolve this matter,” said Abdullah, adding: “This decision came as a consequence of the Yemeni-Saudi war and claims that Yemenis working in these cities provided sensitive information to the Houthis that allowed them to target vital facilities in these cities.”

Abdullah said the Saudi government is capable of implementing measures that allow Yemeni workers to remain where they are while maintaining the security of their country.

The internationally recognized government, or IRG has not yet issued any official statements condemning the Saudi decision against Yemeni workers.

Psychological distress and resentment

Baadani said that after salaries stopped being paid in Yemen and he became unable to support his family, he applied for work in Saudi Arabia and was lucky enough to get a job at Najran University.

“I found, in my work in the kingdom, an opportunity to escape the poverty that was knocking on my door because of the war in Yemen,” he said.

Baadani added that he was extremely distressed after hearing about the decision to terminate the contracts of Yemeni professionals and laborers and deport them to Yemen.

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