The Plight of Yemeni Workers in Saudi Arabia

By ECDHR Staff, 28 March 2022

When the Yemeni Civil War started in 2014, two years after the revolution, it opposed three groups: the military forces faithful to the ex-president Ali Abdallah Saleh, the Houthi Shia troops, and the current government of Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. After the Houthis ousted Mansour Hadi, Saudi Arabia led a martial coalition in March 2015 thereby internationalising the conflict and what was only supposed to be a few weeks’ intervention, became seven years. They drove the Houthis out of the southern part of the country resulting in an enormous amount of casualties in the way of medical facilities, human lives, and humanitarian personnel. The Houthi rebels, however, still continue to step up their attacks with technological weapons and often hit civilian structures in Saudi Arabia. 

Currently, the Hadi government fails to provide basic services and security which explains why their leader continues to reside in Saudi Arabia. The UN qualifies this warfare as the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world”. They reported in 2020 that 233,000 citizens died, half of those resulting from indirect causes such as starvation, lack of medical services, and bad infrastructure. Additionally, more than 2 million Yemeni people fled the country to Saudi Arabia. Through such immigration, Yemeni people try to financially support their families who stayed back in their home country. Yemeni migrant workers contribute to 61% of remittances, which is approximately 2.3 billion dollars annually, and support 10 million people back in Yemen. 

July 2021 marked a turning point. The Saudi Arabian government issued a statement that required the termination of all working contracts for foreign employees – which includes 25 per cent of Yemeni nationals. This policy is in the continuity of the Saudi strategy to improve job prospects for the national youth of their country. Due to the employer sponsorship system in Saudi Arabia, migrant workers’ visa and legal status depend on their employers which often results in an abusive relationship between them. In other words, if an employer is unsatisfied with their employee, they can fire them which increases the chance of deportation. 

On the international stage, Saudi Arabia is trying to build a reputation as defenders of human rights in Yemen. Nevertheless, this political campaign is a clear attack on this community sparking the International Union of Yemeni Diaspora Communities to make a statement

The union condemns the continuing campaign to target Yemeni workers in southern Saudi Arabia, despite the circulating news that there was an exemption of some Yemeni academics in some southern Saudi cities in an attempt to absorb the public’s outcry and anger toward these arbitrary decisions.

On August 14, The Yemeni Doctors Living Abroad Association petitioned to ask the Saudi Arabian government to reconsider their decision since the right to asylum or the right of the refugees are not protected there. 

This is why Human Rights Watch is recommending Saudi Arabia to sign and ratify the refugee convention of 1951 and the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The ratification of these two conventions “should allow the UN refugee agency to exercise its mandate to determine the refugee status of asylum seekers and facilitate durable solutions for those recognised as refugees, including, where appropriate, integration in Saudi Arabia”, as communicated on HRW’s official website.

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