World News / Middle East

    Saudi-Yemen Barrier Blocks Ethiopian Migrants

    Ethiopia migrant workers seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia are being turned back on March 16, 2012, in Haradh, a town in western Yemen near the site where the Saudi government is erecting a fence along the border. (Reuters)
    Ethiopia migrant workers seeking jobs in Saudi Arabia are being turned back on March 16, 2012, in Haradh, a town in western Yemen near the site where the Saudi government is erecting a fence along the border. (Reuters)
    David Arnold
    A popular path for Ethiopians to work as illegal household help in Saudi Arabia has been blocked by construction of a 75 kilometer-long three meter-high concrete-filled pipeline, that is supposed to eventually span the entire 1,800 kilometer Saudi-Yemen border. 
     
    The Saudi-Yemen Barrier is designed to discourage illegal entry by Yemenis and other foreigners from sneaking across the border for work, to stop smugglers bringing in weapons for extremists and to end the shipment of qat – a plant whose leaves are a mild but illegal stimulant – to eager Saudi consumers.
     
    Early construction has already cut off the route taken by thousands of poor Ethiopians seeking household jobs in Saudi Arabia’s wealthy middle class.
     
    According to International Office for Migration (IOM) officials in Sana’a, 25,000 Ethiopians hoping for jobs as maids, cooks, nannies, gardeners and drivers in Saudi cities have been stopped at the barrier and now live in scattered temporary encampments not far from the fence.
     
    IOM operates an emergency center there that provides water, food and medical help daily to about 3,500 of the most needy, said Marco Chimenton of the IOM office in Sana’a. The IOM has also repatriated thousands of Ethiopians from Yemen but has faced problems funding the flights in recent years. 
     
    Foreigners do Saudi menial labor

    Saudi officials estimate that a million jobs in the Kingdom are filled by foreign workers.  Most are filling low-paying positions. “Anyone doing any sort of menial labor is basically a foreigner,” said Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch in Amman.
     
    Traditionally, the largest percentage of domestic workers – about 60,000 - in Saudi Arabia come from the Philippines, said Dr. Ahmed F. Al Fahaid, the Ministry of Labor’s deputy for international affairs. In protest of Saudi working conditions, the Republic of the Philippines last year banned their domestic workers from further entry to the Kingdom until a bi-lateral agreement was reached. Ethiopians began competing in earnest for those Saudi jobs.
     
    The Philippine Overseas Labor Office has since negotiated a Saudi agreement to, among other things, guarantee $400 monthly wages and the freedom to change jobs. They signed their new agreement with the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in May.
     
    Ethiopians bound for the homes in the Kingdom
     
    Work conditions in Saudi Arabia for migrant domestic laborers - and particularly for housemaids - have long been criticized by Human Rights Watch and other watchdog agencies that cite unsafe housing, nonpayment of workers, rape and other physical abuse.
     
    Al Fahaid said the Ministry of Labor completed a set of regulations in July that for the first time addresses conditions and protections for the Kingdom’s 1 million foreign domestic workers.
     
    Recent local Saudi media accounts have focused on Ethiopian housemaids as perpetrators of violence. In July, a Jeddah police spokesman said many accusations against Ethiopians have “turned out to be inconsequential” but anxious Saudi mothers have engaged in an anti-Ethiopian housemaid campaign on Twitter.
     
    About 200 Ethiopians who ran away from their places of employment were being treated for psychological problems in a Riyadh center for housemaids, according to the Saudi Gazette.
     
    “We had some problems, especially with the Ethiopians, and decided to temporarily stop and review the case,” said Al Fahaid.  “We found out through a consultant … that most problems started long before the workers came here – especially domestic workers.”
     
    Foreign workers who try to change employers are in violation of Saudi law and subject to deportation because they violate kafala – the Saudi custom of sponsorship that denies a foreign worker the right to change jobs without the employers consent. Some labor advocates have compared the system to slavery. Bahrain has outlawed it.
     
    40,000 visa applications suspended

    With all the bad publicity, Ethiopia recently suspended applications for an estimated 40,000 Ethiopians who want to work in the Kingdom.
     
    “The decision was made on the basis of widespread reports that the Saudi authorities were complaining about domestic workers turning against their employers,” said Getachew Reda, spokesman for Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
     
    He said the decision to suspend new visas is not related to Riyadh’s intentions to deport thousands of other Ethiopians who had entered the Kingdom illegally. Getachew said his government is focused on better work conditions for those who enter Saudi Arabia legally.
     
    For more than a year Ethiopia has been negotiating with Saudi labor officials for an agreement similar to the Philippine agreement. Getachew said his government wants to change the system for Ethiopians who work there.
     
    “Private employers consider these employees their property,” Getachew said, “and they take away their passports and make sure they have no means to challenge any unacceptable conditions. That kind of abuse happens very much.”
     
    Recruiters are unregulated middlemen
     
    Migrant workers from Ethiopian and other countries are often victims of a poorly functioning and sometimes corrupt system of recruiters, say observers of the Saudi foreign worker system. Recruiters are the crucial intermediaries between the housemaid and her employer, but neither government controls the recruiting or training process.  Recently city officials in Addis Ababa met with overseas job recruiters and announced the creation of seven centers to train potential foreign workers in basic home management skills.
     
    The Philippines screens Saudi and Filipino recruiters of their domestic workers. Ethiopia’s Getachew says recruiting agencies are part of the problem in Ethiopia. The recruiting system has received some criticism from Ethiopian labor advocates.
     
    “We’re cracking down on the so-called agencies which are concocting all kinds of stories about all kinds of opportunities in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East,” said Getachew.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora