Ethiopia struggles to absorb 100,000 deportees from Saudi Arabia By ANDUALEM SISAY in Addis Ababa | Tuesday, December 3  2013 at  18:07

Mr Dina Mufti of Ethiopia's ministry of Foreign Affairs. PHOTO | ANDUALEM SISAY 

The Ethiopian government plans to bring home over 100,000 of its citizens who Saudi Arabia says are working illegally in the country.

“Until this time we have welcomed a total of 87,523 people and we hope to conclude the mission within the coming six or seven days,”
said Dina Mufti, the spokesperson at the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Out of the total returnees, 4,051 are children while 28,943 are women, according to Dina who briefed journalists in his office on Tuesday. He said the government has been providing temporary shelter and health facilities for the returnees in collaboration with donors and the private sector.

“After providing them with necessary services we send them to their localities to reintegrate themselves back with their families,” he added.

To support the Ethiopian government’s returnee campaign, the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday donated $100,000 worth of non-food aid items. These included 10,000 blankets, 15,000 packs of sanitary pads, 30,000 bars of soap as well as an ambulance for emergency responses.

Currently there are 64 camps in Saudi Arabia crammed with immigrants of different nationalities, from where Ethiopia is arranging for its citizens to be sent back home, according to Mr Dina.

Distressing videos

Saudi Arabia has launched an aggressive crackdown on immigrants living without legal papers. The crackdown begun early this year and the July deadline was extended to November by King Abdullah, who warned aliens to regularise their residency and employment status in the meantime.

Distressing videos of Ethiopians being pulled out of their dwelling places by Saudi enforcers have circulated on the Internet and triggered worldwide protests by members of the Ethiopian diaspora and also outraged people in Ethiopia itself.

Some of the deportees have reported worse abuses.

In a report released this week, Human Rights Watch called on Saudi authorities to investigate the behaviour of Saudi security forces in the course of the crackdown.

“Saudi authorities should immediately investigate assaults on Ethiopians and other migrant workers by security forces and Saudi citizens, and hold those responsible for violent crimes to account,” Human Rights Watch said.

For months there has been a Saudi campaign to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment to justify the crackdown, according to Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.

“Now the Saudi government needs to rein in Saudi citizens who are attacking foreign workers,” he added.