Time is Ticking for Illegal Migrant Workers

Despite the fact that the deadline for illegal immigrant Ethiopians to leave Saudi Arabia is approaching, all Ethiopians are not registered to come back for many reasons.

The Saudi government has decided that all migrant workers who have set foot on its land illegally should leave the country within 90 days. These migrant workers include Ethiopians among others. At the time of writing this episode, the due date will be only one month away.

On the part of the Ethiopian government, Workineh Gebeyehu (PhD), the Minister of Foreign Affairs, went to Saudi Arabia to discuss matters of common interest dealing with the subject at hand. Among the statements made by the foreign minister, one sentence seems to look as an interesting statement worth considering. He had made a request to facilitate the journey of Ethiopians coming back home, to be in a way that is done in a humanistic and respectful manner. Indeed, the Ethiopian migrants and others for that matter in the Kingdom demand dignity and respect of their rights.

According to political analysts observing returnees’ indignity is easier said than done. Some of the illegal migrant workers may not know what is going on around some issues with regards to them. Some of them have gone through risky ordeals to see livestock or borrow money to pay for human traffickers to take them across the Red Sea to the other side or the Middle East without being aware that every land is not Saudi Arabia or Yemen, Kuwait or any other country.

Some of the migrants have language problems, they were not trained at home and had no special skills and knowledge of what to do, hence could not earn respect in their works as quickly as possible. The Saudis are known for women rights violations, and ours could not be an exception.

Ethiopians have been suffering in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Voices of the normal migrant workers are heard that although many get the legal license to get some kind of employment as babysitters, cooks, house cleaners, dishwashers and the like, they have been treated inhumanely, never mind respectfully. We recall that a cruel employer was seen taking a video of a young Ethiopian girl thrown down from the seventh floor of a building through a window.

However, there still are Ethiopians who do not want to come back home. Unlike some years ago, some women migrant workers told the media that they are not willing to go back to Ethiopia for a second round for the state does not provide what it promised them a few years back. They have experienced that those promises and tempting words that the government said were simply empty words, to say the least.

But I guess many may come to use the advantage that certain items – as much as 21 – will be allowed to be imported tax-free. We are not again informed yet if any of the returning migrants have made use of the much talked about special privilege or whether the privilege will hold even after the due date is over. Of course, we have heard from the media that more than 40,000 undocumented Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia have secured exit visas. The number is, however, underwhelming as there is an estimated number of undocumented migrants much larger than this.

The Ethio-Saudi relationship has a huge layer of history that goes back many centuries. Even the present day economic relations of the two countries deserves a mention. Ethiopia exports the best coffee and bean seeds to Saudi Arabia. Harrar coffee seeds do not undergo normal coffee tenders like the others such as Yirgachefe or Wolegacoffee, it just goes there directly. Livestock exports of sheep, goats or oxen almost seem to be exclusively left open to the Saudi markets.

History also takes us back to the discovery of the sweet berries by a shepherd boy in a place known as Keffa from which the name “coffee” is derived, according to legend. Needless to say that today coffee is sipped almost anywhere in the world. Germany, in particular, is among the countries that very much lean towards consumption of coffee among other nations in the world. Coffee is not sipped from small cups like in the homeland, Ethiopia. Bigger cups are used while the brew is taken with a spoon of sugar so to minimise its bitter taste.

Coming back to Ethio-Saudi economic relations, realizingand Workineh Gebeyehu’s discussion with Saudi Arabia to send legal domestic workers. On realisingthe shortage of staff in the embassy, he decided to add staff members to consolidate the speedy handling of the process. He also confirmed to them that properties and personal belongings are exempt from tax. Of course, the actual problem of coming back may not be revealed as of now. How many migrant workers are aware of the call of the motherland is a question that remains unanswered.

Many people condemn the implication of agreeing to send legal domestic workers. However, for the fact that people will go there anyway, it is better to make it legal so that it would be easy to protect the rights of the workers. Though the trend of exporting commodities has been there for centuries, exporting people is a new phenomenon.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Jun 04,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 893]



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