By Ali Saeed
Mohammed Rageh is a 27-year-old Yemeni worker who infiltrated late 2011 into Saudi Arabia looking for a job. He is now disabled after his right arm was amputated while on duty for a Saudi employer. He was deported home early April of this year after the Saudi police forced him to sign a document saying that he does not demand any right to anyone.
Since the beginning of April, thousands of workers have been deported from the wealthy neighbor after new changes in the very strict work regulations. In Rageh’s case, the deportation is clearly not a topic for discussion as he was illegal but his story highlights the contradictions of this situation as well as the inhuman treatment these workers are submitted to.
Rageh was working in the capital Sana’a, but the popular uprising in 2011 brought the business of his Yemeni employer into a standstill where he was consequently laid off. In late 2011, he and 20 others of his friends decided to take a risk by infiltrating to Saudi Arabia illegally. The dramatic economic situation and the difficulties of getting a visa to Saudi push many Yemenis to think that smuggling is the only solution.
“I used to have a job since I was working as a carpenter for a contractor and I lost my job due to the political situation in 2011 which forced the employer to suspend his business,” said Rageh in a long interview with the Lavoix du Yemen.
“We agreed with a Yemeni smuggler to take us all from Sana’a to Riyadh,” explained Rageh. “Each one had to pay him 1,700 Saudi Riyals (SR – around $450) for the trip,” he added, also saying he had to borrow this money.
The Yemeni smuggler drove them from Sana’a and dropped them in a remote area, north of Saada, close to Saudi Arabia. Then, they walked for five hours towards the Saudi border to meet a Saudi smuggler who was tasked to take them to Riyadh.
“It was risky. You risk your life… Imagine sleeping in the middle of a desert at 2:00 am,” said Rageh.
The Saudi smuggler took the 21 job seekers in a SUV where they had to crowd on top of each other for four days until they reach Riyadh. There, Rageh met his friends who found a job for him immediately in a car repairing shop.
“I worked in this shop for about three months with a SR 1,200 (around $320) monthly salary,” said Rageh, “then my friends told me that they found me a better job in Al-Qasim.”
Any illegal worker in Saudi Arabia has obviously no freedom of movement and can be arrested at any time and deported home. Therefore, Rageh had to pay SR 400 (around $100) to another smuggler in order to reach Al-Qasim where he worked in a stone-sawing workshop for about five months.
The hypocrisy of this situation is that everyone knows that these people are illegal workers, and everyone benefits from them, as they are a cheap labor, without fearing the consequences. The workers are in desperate need to work but are not necessarily aware of the risks they face by doing so.
However, while making labor laws even stricter, the Saudi government would also impose, according to the Saudi Gazette newspaper, penalties, including jail sentences, on business owners who used illegal workers. They would also have to pay the cost of deporting the workers.
One day, a Saudi employer brought him in his own car to Al-Kharj to work in his stone-sawing workshop, for the same salary of SR 2,000 (around $530) per month. There, Rageh sustained a serious injury while on duty that cost him the loss of his right arm. An Indian colleague admitted him to King Khaled Hospital in Al-Kharj and told the police of the hospital that Rageh lost his right arm in a traffic accident.
The police interrogated Rageh after he woke up from coma. “I told them the truth, that I had this injury while on duty,” said Rageh. “I gave them the name and the address of my employer and also told them that I was an illegal resident.”
“They did the operation for me at the hospital and on the second day, they chained my leg on the bed because I was an illegal resident,” he said.
Rageh remained handcuffed for two months and a half at the hospital. “I was allowed to go to the toilet only once per day,” he said. “It was really hard since I was suffering and unable to go to the nurse to complain that I was chained.”
Later on, Rageh finally contacted the Yemeni Embassy in Riyadh who sent an official to visit him at the hospital.”He told me that the embassy can not do anything for me because I was an illegal resident there,” he said. “They told me that they can only issue me an exit permit.”
Two months and half later, someone posted photos of Rageh on Facebook. The head of the Yemeni community in Al-Kharj province furiously came to him and asked to know who published the photos online as he thought this would harm Saudi Arabia’s reputation.
“Then, they moved me from the bed to the prison of the hospital,” said Rageh.
He was supposed to have another medical operation for skin grafting, but the hospital told him that there was no plastic surgeon specialist to do the operation for him and that they could not transfer him to another hospital as he was illegal.
The head of the Yemeni community in Al-Kharj finally managed to bring the exit permit for Rageh. But he said that it was only after that his friends bribed the community leader with SR 1,200 (around $320) for issuing the paper. Meanwhile the Saudi police forced him to sign a document saying that he would never demand anyone right to treatment or anything else.
“I am regretful for traveling to Saudi Arabia because I lost the most precious thing I had, my right arm,” said Rageh full of despair. “My ambitions are gone now, I became handicapped and my disability is permanent.”Français
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