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On the Saudi situation, the government walks the walk

Belay EjeguTigrai Online, November 26, 2013

Dr. Tedros Adhanom with some of the Ethiopians who returned form Saudi Arabia. On the Saudi situation, the government walks the walkDr. Tedros Adhanom with some of the Ethiopians who returned form Saudi Arabia. On the Saudi situation, the government walks the walk

The past few weeks have been troubling for Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia, but it was also an opportune moment for the bankrupt extremists in the Diaspora.

These few opportunists took the sad turn of events as a catastotunity - (a catastrophe that is taken as a personal/group opportunity by some), hoping that this was an opportunity to replenish their ever-dwindling political capital and to discredit the government. 

It is known that Saudi Arabia hosts millions of foreign workers from East Africa and South Asia. A significant portion of that labor force lacks proper legal documents. These illegal workers came from many countries including Bangladesh, India and the Philippines as well as people from Chad, Ethiopia and the Sudan.

The government was Saudi Arabia has been announcing several measures to its system for most of this year. That in- -cludes changing the legal framework, registration of foreign workers and expelling the rest.

As a sovereign government, Saudi Arabia has the right to detain and deport foreigners that it considers illegal worker.

Outrageously, many of the detentions were carried out in a manner that failed to respect the rights of the migrant workers and detainees.

As a result, an Ethiopian was killed and other Ethiopians were subject to mistreatment by the Saudi authorities as they started to round up illegal migrants and take them to holding camps.

Two weeks ago, riots broke out in Saudi Arabia's capital city Riyadh, in Manofuha district, and resulted in two more deaths of Ethiopian citizens and the death of a Saudi man in a night of violence, according to media reports.

Many others were reported injured as security forces tried to crackdown a demonstration of illegal workers, including many Ethiopians, over the way the authorities were handling the crackdown against visa violators.

Saudi Arabia's police claimed that the illegal workers clashed with local residents and mainly Africans, started harassing motorists and members of the public, hurling rocks at passersby and cars, and the security forces intervened to control the situation.

However, it was undeniable that dozens have been roughly treated, abused and manhandled by security forces while being taken to holding centers, besides the tragic death of Ethiopians.

The government of Ethiopian didn't take the matter lightly.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to demand an explanation regarding the killing of an innocent Ethiopian national and the treatment of other Ethiopian nationals.

Foreign Minister, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, unequivocally stated that:

 "This is unacceptable. We call on the Saudi government to investigate this issue seriously.

We are happy to take our citizens back but they should be treated with dignity while they are there.”

“Even if we are going to deport illegals, we can do it smoothly because this is not a war situation.

It is, maybe accepted, when nations are at war, to deport like this, in a very rapid fashion, then people may understand, but not in a peace time situation.

We could have arranged it together to make a smooth transfer because as i said earlier, we are ready to have our citizens.

Ethiopia's government publicly expressed its strong belief that any problems occurring in relation to Ethiopian citizens residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should be handled in the light of long-standing relations between the two friendly countries.

While Ethiopia reiterated her respect for the laws of Saudi Arabia and their right to issue and execute policy on illegal migrants, at the same time it has s-trongly condemned the killing of an Ethiopian and any unlawful and inhuman acts against migrants and any mistreatment of its citizens residing in Saudi Arabia.

The Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros directly contacted Saudi government officials to unequivocally express “the Ethiopian Government’s grave concern to ask for explanations of the situation and demand that the ongoing abuse of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia was halted”.

Indeed, despite the misinformation that is being propagated by Diaspora extremists, it has been long since the government has started working to curb the illegal human trafficking networks to Saudi Arabia and other Middle eastern countries.

Since last year, the Government has been taking strict me--asures to minimize and protect migrant domestic workers abroad especially in the Middle East.

A National Council against Human Trafficking, chaired at Deputy Prime Minister Level, to encourage awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, has been set up and also launched a National Movement against Human Trafficking to reinforce its effort to curb this awful practice.

In conjunction with that, a National Taskforce had been set up with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs , the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police to find ways to stop illegal migration by Ethiopian nationals and safeguard the interests and rights of Ethiopians working abroad.

A few months ago, as per the recommendation made by the Taskforce, the government announced a ban on Ethiopian workers traveling abroad until fully satisfactory legal framework that guaranteed the safety and protection of citizens and their interests could be provided.

The government announced that the ban will stay in place for as long it takes to accomplish the goal of providing Ethiopians working abroad with full protection of their rights and interests.

Similarly, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has taken stricter measures.

The Ministry closed down a total of thirty three agencies for involvement in illegal trafficking of domestic workers this year. It has also banned travel for unregistered domestic workers to the Emirates.

Besides these general measures, the government has also been efforting to ease condition for our brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia for several months.

Five months ago, on July, a high level delegation headed, by Dr. Tedros Adhanom, had conducted an official visit to Saudi Arabia to seek ways of providing protection for Ethiopian workers living there.

During the visit, Dr Tedros went to the Ethiopian Consulate in Jeddah, where over ninety Ethiopian women who had been working in domestic service but forced to flee to the shelter due to various physical and psychological attacks they had suffered from their employers.

As reported at the time:

Dr. Tedros met these victims of abuse in the consulate shelter and heard their stories which ranged from denials of salary or sleep, physical and sexual assault, the withholding of passports, imprisonment, and even murder.

Dr. Tedros was deeply saddened by their stories and the situation the women were in. Realizing their situation was aggravating serious mental and health problems, he immediately instructed the Mission officials to provide all necessary support and services to facilitate their return home to Ethiopia as soon as possible.

In a matter of days a total of nearly ninety of these victims of abuse had been provided tickets and other necessary support. and they arrived Addis Ababa with a week..

Following this, Dr. Tedros has called for an urgent meeting with Ethiopia’s Heads of Missions in the Middle East as well as community representatives and higher officials in the ministry....to discuss further the problems for victims of abuse or trafficking and what can be done as a matter of urgency for these people.

At the time, Dr. Tedros interceded on behalf of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia for the extension of the three months deadline set for the legalization of undocumented Ethiopians workers and for the return of those who can't get legalization.

Subsequently, Prince Saudi Al-Faisal extended the time limit by four months. Prince Saudi Al-Faisal subsequently extended the time limit by a further four months.

Ethiopia's diplomats in Riyadh and Jeddah worked day and night and helped about 39,000 Ethiopians to complete the necessary formalities until November 4.

When the registration period ended and Saudi made it clear that there will be no further extension, the government moved to the next course of action.

Immediately after the Saudi Arabian authorities had begun detaining Ethiopian citizens, Ethiopia started the repatriation process.

The Foreign Ministry of has set up a Command Post, chaired by Dr. Tedros, to deal with the crisis, organize repatriation of citizens in an orderly manner and deal with them on arrival.

Indeed, since the deadline for legalization of status for migrant workers in Saudi Arabia was announced, the government has been active in working through the Embassy in Riyadh to organize the repatriation of Ethiopian citizens and in discussing the appropriate methods with the Saudi authorities.

The Embassy has opened a new registration center in Jeddah to expedite the process of registering Ethiopian citizens and issuing laissez passer to those whose status is not legalized yet.

The diplomatic missions in Riyadh and Jeddah, has been in daily contact with Saudi authorities in an effort to improve the handling of Ethiopians, in addition to expediting the repatriation process for those without documentation.

Ethiopia's Ambassador in Saudi and other diplomats have met with the Governor of Riyadh and the head of the police force to discuss ways to work for the safe repatriation of Ethiopians.

Furthermore, the staff of the missions in Jeddah and Riyadh, Ethiopian ambassadors to Doha and Abu Dhabi and additional senior staff from the Ministry have been sent to Saudi Arabia to assist the process of bringing Ethiopian citizens back to their home.

Diplomats and other consular officers are efforting to provide Ethiopian citizens with the necessary information on how to deal with their problems and helping citizens, besides to visiting deportation centers, and the police stations where any Ethiopian nationals are being held, to ensure that people’s rights are fully respected.

The Embassy in Riyadh and the Consular office in Jeddah have also announced telephone numbers through which Ethiopians can call and receive assistance from the diplomats.

Embassy officers also held discussions with community members how they might help with repatriation, assisting in speedy registration and processing of travel documents.

The repatriation process is not over yet. However, with the safe return of about 36,000 Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia so far, the process is certainly on track.

Therefore, the government started working simultaneously on the issue of rehabilitating the returnees so that they can resume their life amicably and integrate into the economic and social fabric of the country in the shortest time possible.

The government is facilitating ways to enable the private sector, professionals and other concerned Ethiopians to complement the Government’s efforts to help the returnees to resettle.

The National Committee for the Repatriation and Rehabilitation of Returnees from Saudi Arabia is chaired by the Foreign Minister. Its members include representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Labor and Social Affairs, Women Children and Youth and Health as well as from Civil Aviation and the Prime Minister’s Office.

There is also a Technical Committee which is meeting daily and reporting to the National Committee.

The lessons of this incident should not be overlooked. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs observed:

So many Ethiopians found themselves in Saudi Arabia, points up the dangers of choosing to migrate to a foreign country, without having fully explored economic opportunities here in Ethiopia, and without observing the due processes of immigration required in another country.

This, in particular, makes it difficult for the Government to take effective action to protect citizens abroad and limits the possibilities. The result is that people can be subject to unnecessary misery and abuse.

Unfortunately, the   extremists chose to  exploit this humanitarian matter for short-term political profit.

Nonetheless, no matter what the extremists choose to say or do, all Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopia and the government should be single-minded  on the repatriation and rehabilitation of our brothers and sisters, as well as on preventing similar tragedies in the future.

After all, the peoples of Ethiopia know very well that the government not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.

Less than ten days ago, Dr. Tedros declared that:

“I had calls straight from the camps, from women who are crying for help. There is nothing moving than that.

We have already received thousands, we are expecting tens of thousands and I would like to assure you that we are ready to receive our fellow citizens home.”

That promise was translated into action as the government effectively repatriated more than 36,000 Ethiopians.

The number of Ethiopians being repatriated reached about 5,000 people in one day!

That is the kind of action that Ethiopians would like to see and which should be maintained until the safe return of all our brothers and sisters.

The ultimate solution, however, lies at the socio-economic transformation.

Let me conclude with a remark from Dr. Tedros at an international conference earlier this month:

“Off course we have been working a lot on long term and short term solutions for long time in Ethiopia now.

There are structural problems that we need to address, to solve the problem once and for all. And you know Ethiopia is making progress and growing in double digits.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we know we can make it, and we know we can eliminate poverty.”