A bilateral amnesty program between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia in respect of Ethiopians illegally resident in the oil-rich Gulf nation expires today after a months’ extension elapsed.
The process till this stage has involved the issuing of the initial 90-day amnesty – during which time authorities in Addis Ababa expressed worry over the slow rate of return. At a point there was a huge return then an extension of 30-days was granted.
This effectively means that Saudi can now resort to forcible deportation and imprisonment of persons who failed to take the program and to return home.
It is better if our citizens come back home before various problems arise seizing the opportunity they are given even in the remaining short period.
The Ethiopian government helped facilitate exit visas for thousand of its nationals who were illegally resident in Saudi, most of them had gone to work as labourers.
Figures indicate that there are about 400,000 such illegal residents but so far only about 60,000 of them have taken the amnesty program to return, the BBC’s reporter in Addis Ababa reports.
Below is a brief timeline of events since March 2017.
March 29, 2017– Saudi Arabia issues a 90-day notice for all undocumented workers to quit the Kingdom.
May 21, 2017– Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn expressed worry over the refusal of nationals illegally resident in Saudi Arabia to return home despite a 90-day amnesty program. Desalegn said he feared that the Saudi government will resort to forcibly deport Ethiopians.
He is quoted by the Ethiopia News Agency as saying, “the situation that made the Saudi Government forcibly deport our citizens is being created. Therefore, it is better if our citizens come back home before various problems arise seizing the opportunity they are given even in the remaining short period”.
May 27, 2017– The Ethiopian government said it had secured exit visas for about 40,000 undocumented citizens living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Affairs chief traveled to Saudi and held talks with officials in Riyadh.
June 24, 2017– Information Minister reported that 35,000 nationals had returned home on the program and that 85,000 of them had been granted exit visas at the time.
He also disclosed that some returning citizens had taken other routes besides flying in. Assuring that those who left Saudi via ship and rail. Most of them are in neighbouring Djibouti and Sudan.
June 28, 2017– The Ethiopian government requested for an extension of the amnesty of the over 400,000 nationals expected back home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said only 45,000 had returned home.
June 30, 2017– The extension requested by Ethiopia was granted by Saudi authorities – a further 30-days.
Ethiopian Ambassador to the UK, Hailemichael Aberra confirmed the extension to the BBC on saying “Ethiopia is trying its best to welcome the people from Saudi Arabia”.
“A taskforce has been established at several levels … 110,000 have been registered and the others are being encouraged to register to get their visas and come back home,” Aberra said.
With the amnesty having expired today
(Tuesday 25 July, 2017),Ethiopians who failed to return home will be forced back. They could also face detention and fines according to Saudi law.
Ethiopia has one of the largest undocumented migrants in Saudi Arabia working as construction and domestic workers.
Local media reports that a number of them have complained of inability to afford tickets to leave the country. The government sent envoys to help facilitate the repatriation via the national airline Ethiopian Airlines.
This follows a similar campaign launched in 2013 that saw more than 2.5 million undocumented migrants leave the country. The move is part of Saudi’s national campaign to rid the country of the huge number of illegal migrants.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa
Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo