Yemenis in Saudi Arabia fear deportation

Published on 18 March 2015 in Report
Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki (author)

Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki


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With a history of animosity between the Saudi government and the Houthis, and the latter’s backing from Iran, the group’s rise has been the cause of much alarm in Riyadh. As the situation continues to deteriorate, Yemenis working in the kingdom are concerned about how their host government might respond should the Houthis remain in power.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of Yemeni expats living in Saudi Arabia fear a repeat of the kingdom’s mass deportations in 1990, when an estimated 850,000 Yemenis were forced out of the country.

Hostility between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis—a Zaydi Shia movement from Yemen’s Sa’ada governorate, on the border with Saudi Arabia, has long been evident. In 2004, a protracted war between the Houthis and the Yemeni government began. In 2009, Saudi Arabia bombed the Houthis in their home governorate of Sa’ada.

The group’s current leader, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, has repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia and accused it of meddling in Yemen’s affairs. Most recently, in a speech aired on Feb. 26, he said financial aid from the kingdom was not meant to benefit average citizens but, “goes to specific powers in exchange for destabilizing the country.”

“Saudi Arabia wants to turn Yemen into another Libya, it always looks for ways to weaken Yemen, to spread sedition, and to complicate things by supporting particular groups,” he said.

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s support for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was met with a harsh response in Saudi Arabia, which cut aid to the newly unified state and deported hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, depriving Yemen of crucial funding in the form of workers’ remittances.

Official statistics are not available, but Yemeni analysts estimate the number of expats working in Saudi Arabia today to be upwards of two million. In 2013, government data valued remittances from Saudi Arabia alone at $1.4 billion, or 4.2 percent of GDP.

According to a Yemen Central Bank (CBY) report released at the beginning of March, money transferred from Saudi Arabia totaled $3.3 billion in 2014, 90 percent of which was estimated to be coming directly from Yemeni expats living in the kingdom. Ahmed Saeed Shammakh, an economic analyst working at the CBY, believes unregulated transfers bring the total to approximately $4 billion.

Ongoing conflict in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, has raised fears of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The potential mass exodus of Yemenis from Saudi Arabia, and the accompanying drop in remittances, could push the country’s already faltering economy over the edge.

The Yemen Times asked a number of Yemenis who are currently working in Saudi Arabia, or were deported earlier, for their views on the issue.