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Yemeni Illegal Immigration to Saudi Arabia on the Increase: Illegal Immigrant Tells his Story

  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari ( YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
May 5, 2008 



Thousands of Yemenis infiltrate into Saudi Arabia and the Emirates monthly to secure livelihood for themselves and their families behind them, mainly due to the hard economic situation they live through in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries used to host about 2 million Yemenis before the first Gulf crisis in 1990 and they were, especially in Saudi Arabia, equally treated with Saudi citizens.

However, the political stances of the government of Sana'a and media which allegedly backed Saddam Hussein's regime forced Gulf countries to send Yemenis home, and Saudi Arabia demanded Yemeni citizens wishing to remain in Saudi Arabia to seek sponsors. The total number of citizens who returned back to Yemen total to over 1.5 million at conservative estimates.

Such a measure was considered by Yemenis in Saudi Arabia an insult and 80 percent preferred to return to their home dreaming of a better life and future there. The collective return confused the Yemeni government, as it found itself in a critical situation with increased demand for food, drinking water, electricity, education, health and sanitations services and jobs.

Shortly after their collective return, and prompted by the Yemeni government's failure to contain them or to provide them with the required services, most of these returnees felt they had made miscalculations about what they expected the situation to be in their country, making them declare that it was better to live in the hellish Gulf rather than to return back home.

Hard economic situation

Timed with the eruption of the Gulf War and the negative stance by the Yemeni authorities, Gulf countries cut all financial aid and support granted to the country.

With this move, the Yemeni economy was now built on donation and aids from others, as the country started to suffer; however, not badly. The country, following its unity in 1990, managed to gain momentum, but not for long as a civil war caused massive economic losses, let alone the human losses.

Yemen’s ailing economy was badly affected and prices started to hit record levels, employment and poverty rates rose markedly. In return, private sector was weak and incapable of containing such big numbers of returnees. 

Illegal immigration

Under such a situation, most Yemenis sought to travel back to Saudi Arabia, Gulf and other countries; however, their chances were limited and very few people managed to get visas to those countries.

The majority did not manage to enter any Gulf, European country or America and instead they sought to enter neighboring countries illegally, mostly Saudi Arabia.

At moderate estimates, 2,500 Yemenis enter Saudi Arabia every month and this number increases in some seasons such as pilgrimage and Umra seasons (Ramadan) when thousands infiltrate into the Saudi lands begging for money.

On average, a Yemeni illegal immigrant is paid SR 800 a month (some 43,000 YR) in return for doing marginal jobs like farming, herding or security. Others work in building sector and hard labor could gives Yemeni’s a better chance to earn more money.  

A story of an illegal immigrant

Laborer Nassib Al-Mulaiki, 32 and from Ibb's Al-Makhader district, tried once to infiltrate into Saudi Arabia being lured by the more money his fellow infiltrators make, especially when one of his locals promised to provide him with a job. His trial was a great failure as Saudi security arrested him and sent him back home. Below are the details about his experience:

Very recently, the phenomenon of illegal immigration has become wide spread and among the reasons why Yemenis resort to illegal immigration are the deteriorating economic situation in the country, unemployment, not having money to buy visas and the powerful Saudi economy that creates unlimited job opportunities for Saudis as well as foreigners.

Thousands of Yemenis have made infiltration as a habit and they have become familiar with the Saudi lands, the security checkpoints, positions and roads leading to the main cities. However, the new infiltrators do not know the volume of risks and the potential problems they may face. "I did not initially realize what illegal immigration means or the difficulties that one could face," said Al-Muliki. "By midnight, we arrived in Yemeni Hardh city and as soon as we get down the car that transported us from Sana'a, dozens of smugglers hurried to us offering their services."

We selected one of the drivers and he drove us towards the Saudi borders. When we got close, he asked us to get down and to complete the remaining distance by foot. We started to come closer to the line demarcating both countries and I was stunned at the scene. Hundreds of people, including youth, elderly people, women as well as infants were amassed in that place and I thought, by then, that I was in a market. Some of them were sitting behind the sand barrier to observe the movements of Saudi security patrols. Not far, there stood some donkey owners who move those who are unable to walk. Such a scene as well as the chilly atmosphere made me think of the reason why these people left their homes, lands, families and, sometimes, dignity, behind them. To my surprise, some people were taking this hazardous journey with their wives and children, some of whom were still being breast fed."

Later, the guide signaled that we are to run quickly, and we did so. We kept running or walking for quite some time, but we were suddenly stopped by a gruff voice coming from behind us saying 'don't move!', this made me feel paralyzed and I could not move only when the voice said to  'come closer'. When we approached him, I saw a tall man wrapped in a military uniform and armed with a gun. We stood before him saying nothing save the guide who was pleading to him to leave us. The soldier agreed on condition that we pay him SR 200. We continued our journey with vigilant eyes fearing border guards who do not hesitate to fire their guns at infiltrators especially those who try to flee. There have been several incidents in which the infiltrator loses his life or gets injured. In case he escapes both, he will be subject to beats, slanders and insults. After we walked for a long distance we arrived in the first Saudi village and it is known as 'Al-Khawjarah' a little before dawn. The guide left us in a house yard he was familiar with, and started searching for a driver to move us to Jaizan area's Abu Arish city. With effort, a broker agreed to bring us a driver if we  paid him SR 400.

The guide's task ended there and we also paid him SR 100. The money demanded by the driver was a lot because our destination was not far; however, this reveals his opportunistic attitude people face. We remained in the yard for a long time and we felt very hungry and thirsty because we were not allowed to come out to buy anything to eat or drink. Suddenly, a fat officer entered the yard and all of us got alarmed and tried to flee; however, he assured us he will not arrest us or inform authorities. When we talked to the house's owner, he told us the officer was seeking money to buy Qat.

Upon the fall of night, the driver came and we got on the Hilux car and he was driving at high speed, making my heart beat faster than the speed of the car. When we approached the checkpoint, he orders us to get down and walk on foot until we meet after the checkpoint. At 11 o'clock, we asked the driver for something to eat, especially when we were not able to bear the hunger. He parked his car in a safe area and went to fetch some cake and canned juice for us. Not far from our destination, Abu Arish, we were unexpectedly raided by a security patrol who moved us to Abu Ghuraib prison, sorry, I mean Abu Arish's police station. They sent us directly to prison where I spent the most unforgettable hours. When i recall those times, it makes me feel disgusted, sad, and miserable. What you experience in the prison's room is indescribable. It is very dirty with no rest room. Prisoners are to urinate in a place within the room separated by only a short wall. The mistreatment I saw there made me feel that I had been there for years. At sunrise, I was delighted when a soldier opened the prison's door asking us to come out; however, our delight did not last for long as we were told that we will be transferred to another prison. We spent six hours in the new prison and later a soldier came in telling us they will transport us to Yemen demanding us to pay SR 20. Over 100 illegal immigrants were amassed in a bus that could not hold only 50.

The experience I went through was a  week that could never be forgotten. A week that could of killed me at any moment, and what did I gain? Nothing.