November 19, 2013, ADDIS ABABA (BD Live) — When Abdallah Awele moved to Saudi Arabia from Ethiopia last year, he thought he would land a good job and earn enough money to send home to his family.
But instead, Mr Abdallah, 21, said he was beaten, robbed and jailed for living in the country illegally. “I wanted a good salary and a good life, that’s why I crossed the border,” he said.
“When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was successful, I was saving a lot of money and I had nice things. But I lost all of it. Now I am home and I won’t go back there.”
Mr Abdallah was one of at least 23,000 Ethiopians living illegally in Saudi Arabia, and one of a group of close to 400 flown home on Friday after being expelled.
Ethiopian officials said three of their nationals were killed this month in clashes with Saudi police as the clampdown — set in motion after a seven-month amnesty expired — got under way.
“I had 3,500 Saudi Arabian riyals ($930). We were taken to prison, I lost my luggage, and all of my money was collected by the police,” Mr Abdallah said.
“Even my shoes were collected by the police,” he said, speaking barefoot after leaving the airport with about 30 other men.
Mr Abdallah, who had a job guarding animals, was jailed for six months — during which he said he was denied food and medical help. “There is a lot of unhappiness in there,” he said, showing scars on the back of his neck.
Facing limited job prospects and harsh economic realities back home, large numbers of Ethiopian men and women head to the oil-and gas-rich Arabian peninsula every year seeking work.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) said many face physical and mental abuse, menial pay, discrimination and poor working conditions.
The Ethiopian government announced last month it was banning domestic workers from travelling to the Middle East to look for jobs after widespread reports of mistreatment.
Like Abdallah, Abdurahman Kamal said he too was beaten before being jailed for 10 days. His employer revoked his salary and his visa before handing him over to the authorities.
“The police asked for money but at that time I didn’t have the money, so the police beat me,” said Mr Abdurahman, 21, who worked as a driver.
He was relieved to be home after three years in Saudi Arabia. “I get to go back to my family,” he said, wearing a torn shirt that revealed his scarred torso.
Ethiopia’s unemployment rate — 27% among women and 13% among men, according to the ILO — is the main driver for young people seeking better opportunities abroad.
The United Nations refugee agency says more than 51,000 Ethiopians risked their lives this year on the risky crossing over the Gulf of Aden, where reports are common of ships sinking or refugees drowning after being thrown out too far from shore.
Ahmed Abduljebar, 25, moved to Yemen three years ago to work as a waiter and was arrested when he crossed into Saudi Arabia without a visa. He said he was robbed and beaten before being jailed for three months, and complained Ethiopian authorities should have responded faster to release Ethiopians from prison.
“The Ethiopian embassy is a very big problem because it’s not protecting Ethiopians,” he said. “If you’re in prison, no one is asking after you, and they are not collecting you quickly.” Mr Ahmed said while he was happy to be home, he “feels sick” knowing there are still thousands of Ethiopians still in prison.
While they now face the difficult task of finding work at home, they have no plans to return to the site of their nightmare.
“I would never go back again to Saudi Arabia,” Mr Abdurahman said.