Saudi expulsions leave broken dreams in Africa and Asia

Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:10am EST
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By Angus McDowall , Praveen Menon and Aaron Maasho

RIYADH/DUBAI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - More than a million people from across the world - managers, maids, accountants and laborers - have left Saudi Arabia since March, after years or even decades working in the Gulf Arab state, which sustains its own citizens with oil revenues.

Around 120,000 Ethiopians have been deported in the past month alone as part of a visa crackdown aimed at pushing more Saudis into employment to ensure future political and economic stability.

"We were kicked out of our homes and our jobs," said Mohamed Ahmed, 27, waiting with thousands of other Ethiopians at a transit centre behind Addis Ababa's Bole Airport after disembarking with a few bags from Saudi Arabian Airlines jets.

Like many others, Ahmed, who spent five years in Saudi Arabia after crossing the Red Sea in a fishing boat and trekking through turbulent Yemen, had to leave at short notice.

"We left all our belongings there," he said.

Saudi Arabia avoided significant unrest during the Arab Spring pro-democracy protest wave in 2011, but its leaders were uncomfortably aware that entrenched unemployment was a big factor behind rebellions in other Arab states.

Cheap labor from 10 million foreigners in the country hampered previous government efforts to persuade the private sector to employ some of the 20 million locals.

Many of those who have left were illegal immigrants like Ahmed, who crossed the kingdom's porous borders or stayed on after the haj pilgrimage, which attracts around 2 million foreign visitors to Mecca every year.   Continued...

Members of Saudi security forces detain Ethiopian workers during a riot in Manfouha, southern Riyadh, November 9, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser