Saudi Arabia continues to deport Yemeni migrants

Published on 20 May 2013 in Report
Samar Qaed (author), Samar Qaed (photographer)

Samar Qaed


Samar Qaed

Mohammed’s as a illegal laborer in Saudi Arabia complicated treatment for his severe workplace injury.

Mohammed’s as a illegal laborer in Saudi Arabia complicated treatment for his severe workplace injury.

A doctor in the Artificial Limbs and Physiotherapy Center in Sana’a lightly pushes on Mohammed Al-Muhya’s shoulder. The 27-years-old winces in pain as the doctor examines the joint that used to connect to Al-Muhya’s arm. The Yemeni man lost his right arm in December 2012 in a construction accident in Saudi Arabia where he was working as an illegal migrant laborer.

He is now back in Sana’a as one of the estimated 30,000 Yemeni workers who have been forcibly deported from the Saudi Arabia as a crackdown on migrants without visas and a part of a new labor law that requires employers to sponsor their employees’ visas instead of allowing individuals to do so as was previously permitted.

After a backlash from migrants when the law was announced in late March, Saudi’s King Abdullah Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud announced a three month grace period that would put the law into effect on July 3.

Al-Muhya admits he entered Saudi Arabia illegally, like 80 percent of Yemenis working in the country,  according to estimates from the Ministry of Migrants Affairs.

However, Al-Muhya says had he not lost his arm while on the job he believes he would never have never been found out or deported.

Al-Muhya leaves the Artificial Limbs and Physiotherapy Center after his latest round of medical test. In one month, he will return for further examinations. He is trying to be fitted with a prosthetic arm as his doctor has recommended, but he likely will not be able to afford all the medical costs he is incurring.

Al-Muhya reflects back on how his life has changed since the accident. Before December, he was a control supervisor in a Saudi company called Astool, receiving about $530 a month. Al-Muhya had finished his secondary school and like many migrants worldwide, Al-Muhya was chasing increased economic opportunities.

“I did not land a suitable job after I finished my diploma in accounting. I started [small jobs] in carpentry. But when the political crisis broke out in 2011, many workers in the workshop were laid off,” said the young man who has to support his six-member family. “My living situation got tougher.”

That is when he paid about $400 to make the dangerous journey across the border as a smuggled migrant.

He found a construction job in Al-Kharj area, to the south of Riyadh, and no questions were asked. This was about a year and half ago, Al-Muhya remembers.   

Then in December of the last year, the accident happened.

Al-Muhya was used to working at night so as to avoid Saudi deportation police.    

“I was using the [industrial] sand crusher that night,” he said. By accident Al-Muhya turned the machinery without taking proper safety precautions and the machine caught his right arm.

It was a half an hour before anyone found him. He was rushed to the hospital.

Once there, it was clear he was in trouble. Security officials were waiting at his bed once Al-Muhya woke up. Al-Muhya says his boss had told the police the accident happened in traffic, but Al-Muhya admitted to working without papers.

“When I told them I entered the country illegally, they shackled my leg to the bed,” he said.  Al-Muhya says he was treated inhumanely while in the hospital but he did received two surgeries at the expense of the Kingdom.

“They didn’t allow me to [be unshackled] except for once a day and only for 5 minutes.”

It was never clear to Al-Muhya what his fate would be, but after a friend of his visited him in the hospital and snapped a picture of him chained to the bed and posted it on the Internet, Al-Muhya was immediately on a plane and sent back to Yemen.

“Security screamed at me, ‘Who published this photo?’”

Even though Al-Muhya was in desperate need of more surgery, the hospital discharged him.

Now the injured man is staying with his sister and trying to figure out how to come up with the almost $1,500 needed for more surgery and a prosthetic arm.

Stories like those of Al-Muhya have angered Yemeni citizens and law makers alike.

When the Yemen Times contacted the Saudi Embassy in Sana’a for comment on Al-Muhya’s case they would only issue a statement on Saudi’s current labor law.

“The Saudi king made labor law amendments and gave the foreign workforce in Saudi Arabia a three-month notice to correct their situation,” an embassy representative said, referring to the extension agreement the Kingdom has granted workers to switch the sponsors of their visas.

This has done little to appease Yemen’s estimated 2 million person strong workforce in Saudi, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Kiribi arrived in Riyadh on May 12 to hand deliver a letter from President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to King Abdullah asking that Yemenis be exempted from the labor law.

However, Maqbool Al-Rafaei, an advisor at the Migrants Affairs Minister, said it’s too little too late, criticizing his government’s lack of action to stop the deportation of migrants.  

Najeeb Al-Odaini, the head of the Yemeni Migrants Organization, is also concerned about what will happen if the law actually does go into effect on July 3.

“[Deported migrants] will arrive in Yemen unemployed,” he said.

“How will these people feed their families? Where will they go?”

Despite time spent in Saudi that he enjoyed, Al-Muhya is now bitter about the country he called home for over a year. But he has come to terms with the fact he must rebuild his life in Yemen with only one arm at the moment.

“I look forward to returning gold [I borrowed from one of my sisters to afford doctor’s bills] and be able to feed my family,” he said. “I will recover.”