Yemenis in Saudi Arabia: The Risk of Mass Extraction
By: Khaled A. BaRahma
In July 2021, Saudi authorities have begun to terminate or refusing any renew of Yemeni professionals’ contracts, which might make the Yemen's humanitarian crisis even worst, Human Rights Watch said on 31st of August. It is imperative that the Saudi authorities suspend this decision and permit Yemenis to work there.
Qiwa, a platform operated by the Saudi Human Resources Ministry, issued a statement in July announcing new regulations forcing businesses to limit the percentage of their staff that consists of certain nationalities, specifically the Yemeni nationals, up to 2.5 (Scale: out of 10). According to Reuters, Yemenis in Saudi Arabia were being targeted for mass job terminations by employers. Yemeni workers who do not have a sponsor are forced to leave the country or risk deportation, which can mean hardships and sometimes death.
According to Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch, Hundreds and possibly thousands of Yemeni professionals are effectively being laid off and facing imminent return to an ongoing conflict with Yemen. Saudi Arabia's humanitarian contributions to Yemen are not always in the spotlight, but this decision puts Yemeni citizens at even more serious risk.
The Saudi-led coalition has violated Yemen's laws of war repeatedly, which has aggravated the ongoing catastrophe and wreaked havoc on the country's infrastructure. This has also contributed to Yemen's human rights crisis and humanitarian crisis.
According to IYDC [the International Union of Yemeni Diaspora Communities] on August 23, it condemns the campaign targeting Yemenis in southern Saudi Arabia, despite reports suggesting some Yemeni academics were exempted from these arbitrary decisions in some southern Saudi cities. A Yemeni health workers' group as well as some of Yemeni academics in areas throughout Saudi Arabia were interviewed in August by Human Rights Watch, according to the interview and for fear of retribution, their identities have been withheld. They also reviewed Yemeni documents involving the termination or refusal to renew contracts with Saudi employers. Thus, the Saudi Labor and Social Development Ministry has privately decided to terminate Yemeni workers' contracts or prohibit their renewal. The interviewees said that only Yemenis were targeted and that workers from other nationalities had not been affected. A growing number of Yemenis who they knew had received notices about contract terminations or renewals refusing. As well, they noted that some Yemenis who were born in Saudi Arabia or married to Saudi women had undergone termination in the past.
As of mid-August, Yemeni Doctors Living Abroad Association, an international network that advocates for Yemeni health workers, informed Human Rights Watch that hundreds of Yemeni doctors working in Saudi Arabia had been informed they would lose their contracts. Most of the Yemeni health workers in Saudi Arabia were told orally by their Saudi employers that their contracts would not be renewed over half of the workers interviewed. According to a Yemeni dentist working in southern Saudi Arabia since 2015, his sponsor has informed him that his contract will not be renewed and that he will receive two months' salary as a payment of end-of-service. YDEA [The Yemeni Doctors Living Abroad Association] issued a petition on August 14 asking the Saudi authorities to reconsider their decision and provide humanitarian exemptions. Saudi Arabia does not have any laws or systems that would facilitate people seeking asylum.
According to a Yemeni academic who has been teaching at a Saudi university since 2015, the university's human resources department informed him that his contract would end.
It was evident from the interviews that the end of their contracts would adversely affect their livelihoods and residence in Saudi Arabia for many Yemeni workers. In addition to being unable to support their families back in Yemen without their jobs, they said that losing their jobs would also prevent them from providing for their families. In Yemen, the humanitarian crisis is considered to be the worst in the world, and if Yemenis returned there, they would be unable to rebuild their lives.
Under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, said on August 23 that there was recently a story about remittances from Saudi Arabia being at risk. Remittances are a crucial source of income for many Yemenis.
As of 2020, Yemen's government estimates that over two million Yemenis reside in Saudi Arabia. Yemen's devastated economy has long relied on remittances. As of 2017, the World Bank estimated that Yemenis sent $2.3 billion annually in remittances to their families back home. According to Yemen's Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, remittances sent from Saudi Arabia accounted for 61 percent of the total remittances in 2018. The then-UN-undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, described remittances as "the largest source of foreign exchange for several years in the country," describing them as a "lifeline" for millions. Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, remittances have fallen.
The Saudi government should sign and ratify international conventions on protection of human rights, and the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, both of which were adopted in 1990. Asylum procedures should be fair for foreign nationals who might be persecuted in their home countries in accordance with international standards. As a result, it should enable the UN refugee agency to exercise its mandate and assist those recognized as refugees with durable solutions, including, where appropriate, integrating into Saudi Arabia.
As bad as it is that many people are dying in Yemen as a result of the humanitarian crisis, there's no need to force Yemenis back to such awful conditions by the Saudi authorities. Work visa policies should be reversed in Saudi Arabia, as this will result in mass forced returns of Yemeni workers to areas most at risk from the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis.