The savage mobocratic attack on our people in Saudi Arabia is a culmination of the horrific stories of abuse we have been hearing over the last several months. From Alem Dachasa’s heart wrenching death in Lebanon, the weekly news of maids killed by their employer in almost all Gulf countries, to the mass scale attacks perpetrated by the Saudi police and civilians, we are observing a worsening of the situation for our people in the region.
There appears to be three factors at play leading to this escalation. First, particularly in the Saudi case, instead of taking responsibility for the extravagant waste of resources and unproductive economic policy that has resulted in growing rate of unemployment, the government and the media has been spreading blame on migrants taking away jobs. Consequently, the Saudi public has come to associate their economic hardship with ‘invasion of foreigners’ as their media likes to frame the issue. Second, due to oppressive regimes that rule through exclusivist and exploitive economic conditions, the number of our refugees crossing the Red Sea has skyrocketed. The UNCHR reports show that between 100,000-120,000 refugees enter Yemeni every year. Most if not all of these refugees aim their final destination to be Saudi Arabia. Third, that part of the world is still stuck in medieval racist views. Even before the latest xenophobic campaigns they have been known for being particularly cruel towards African migrants. I have heard endless tells of horrific racist rants and physical attacks against maids and laborers by their employers, the police and orderly folks on the street. In fact I can attest from experience that even the ‘most enlightened’ of them; diplomats, businessmen, students and princess still have a shockingly Darwinian view of humanity. The racism in that part of the world cannot be denied or excused. It’s ugly face and nasty brutality is out there in full display. The latest racist outburst is nothing but a public display of what they have been subjecting our brothers and sisters in seclusion their homes.
I anticipate each of these three factors to get worse in in the near future. The social and political upheaval in the region following the Arab Spring and the expected downward spiral of the economy is likely to further fuel xenophobia as regimes will continue to rely on externalizing internal these problems to remain in power. Sadly I cannot foresee lots of practical solutions.. For instance the humanitarian approach (advocacy and refugee service type) is unlikely to work because the Saudi’s just don’t have room for civil society. A person I know tried to set up shelter for the bettered maids, but he spent over a year trying to get some sort of permit to no avail. One official actually told him in plain language that they have no law for such permit. He then decided to host some of the worst affected in house he rented. An employer of one of the battered women, the very person who brutalized her, found out the place after extracting confession by torturing her friend. He then brought the police, who raided the place, arrested the Good Samaritan, returned some of the women to their tormenting employers and deported the rest. Even during the latest crisis, an elderly person who have lived there for over 40 years and supposedly well known to the authorities, went to appeal to the government to stop the violence. Instead of heeding to his plea, he was beaten up by the officials, arrested and awaiting deportation (despite having all the legal papers).
The other alternative and perhaps more effective way of helping them would have been the diplomatic channel. After beheading of an Indonesian women few years back, Jakarta responded strongly by threatening to severe economic and political ties. The Saudis gave in to the pressure, releasing hundreds of Indonesians from detention. During the recent attack on migrants, Indonesians are said to be the least affected. However, when we come to the Ethiopian government, we are observing a reaction that borders endorsing the Saudi policy of mass violence. The foreign ministry and its diplomats downplayed the severity by blaming on social media’s exaggeration; they even tried to justify the crackdown saying the targets are only illegal immigrants. Notwithstanding the fact that the attack did not make such differentiation, whether they went there legally or illegally, a government has solemn duty to stand up and defend its citizens particularly when they come under attack by foreigners. Then why is the Ethiopian government cozying up to the Saudi’s instead of siding with the victims?
This could be attributed to multitude of factors. First, over last year, the relationship between the Ethiopian regime and the Saudi based immigrants has deteriorated. Triggered by the protest over violations of religious freedom, the immigrant community stood firm against the regime refusing to buy and disrupting the so called Abay Bond sell. Hence it’s understandable that the regime has little love for them. In fact the regime stands to benefit from destabilization of such resourceful and near-to-home diaspora that is increasingly falling into the opposition’s side. This is what’s consular officers have been signaling to elders who went to speak with them. Second, we shall recall the report that the Ethiopian rulers have reached an agreement with the Saudi government to send 45,000 maids ‘legally’. Hence displacement of the rebellious ‘illegals’ will make room for the new ones who, because they will be recruited, vetted monitored by the regime’s agencies while in Saudi, are less likely to stand against it.
Finally, the vast majority of these brutalized refugees are Oromos (it is estimated that over half a million Oromo refugees reside in the Gulf States). The severity of the refugee crisis the Oromo nation is facing—from North Africa to South Africa, Kenya and the Middle East— is indicative of the severity of the repression and exploitation going in our country. The past colonizers reduced our people to servitude. Back then our people at least remained on their land even though they were robbed of most of their production. Today, our people are dispossessed of even that plot of land as the occupiers are giving it to their own and selling to foreigners. Millions are internally displaced and have become urban squatters. Hundreds of thousands flee every year to escape political persecution and save their family from starvation by risking certain death while crossing the Red Sea and the African deserts. Put simply, as a nation, we have become homeless. No amount of humanitarian outreach and lobbying foreign charity can solve this problem for us. We could ask foreign powers and do-gooders to throw us blanket to survive the cold, leftover food to get by. But we will still be back to the same destitution the next day or the one after. The only and lasting solution to this humiliating national homelessness is to take back our homeland. This fact must sink.