The Relocation of the Yemeni Expatriates From South KSA: Is the Political Settlement Approaching?


Tue, 10-08-2021 02:26 PM, Aden

South24 | Aden 

The Yemeni Expatriates in the KSA face more severe complexities. After the localization of jobs, based on the Saudi Ministry of Labours’ decision in 2018, which includes 11 activities, and adds more jobs every now and then, to reduce the unemployment rate among its citizens to 7-4% according to “Vision 2030 Program”1, the wave is back through unannounced decisions. However, it focuses this time on the southern parts of the KSA , especially those areas which share borders with Yemen such as Asir, Najran and Jizan.

Sources, who belong to the Yemeni community in Asir, Najran and Jizan said that the Saudi authorities ordered all owners of markets and shopping centers to relocate the Yemeni workers to other regions in the kingdom. Yemeni workers received notifications from Saudi authorities of ending their contracts with the establishments where they work. Similarly, they warned the establishments which have Yemeni labour that they should terminate their contracts, including the rental houses. They gave them a 120 -days ultimatum for implementing the relocation according to several Yemeni sources in southern KSA.

The unannounced decisions are not limited to the private sector workers, but they include Yemeni doctors, academics, and specialists who work in public sectors, like hospitals, medical facilities and universities in south of Saudi Arabia. This is considered a sudden and unexpected step in this time, especially that the indicators don’t suggest achieving a decisive victory in the long-term Yemeni conflict, paving the way to the return of Yemeni expatriates to their home country with their families, especially as their numbers in southern KSA are more than one million. Such decisions would create further economic crises by cutting off the income sources of many families inside Yemen, this would also obstruct the most important economic source for Yemen represented in Yemeni expats' money transfers, given the unstable economic and political situation since the beginning of the 2015 Yemeni War.

Old border concerns

Throughout history, the Saudi-Yemeni borders stirred constant controversy and dispute. The 1934 Taif Treaty between the two countries gives the KSA the ownership of the southern cities Najran, Jizan and Asir. However, the treaty, in spite of its decisive items, has to be renewed every 20 years. The KSA implemented a successful political approach that attracted the local residents in such areas, and gave them facilities regarding various fields to guarantee their loyalty, and to secure their existence within the greed borders. The KSA gave the Saudi nationality to tens of thousands of Southern Yemenis, who left People's Democratic Republic of Yemen to settle in Najran in the 1980s.

In Spite of the crises and the situation in both North and South in Yemen, and the internal political circumstances in each country, the settlement of the border dispute continued. After the Yemeni unity between the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic in 1990, many meetings were held by the joint committees between Yemen and the KSA to negotiate demarcation of the border. In 2000, the disputing parties finally signed an agreement in Jeddah between the then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Saudi Crown Prince at that time, Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, putting an end to a difficult tensed era which lasted for decades regarding the very sensitive border dispute between the two countries.

It should be said that the Jedda Agreement didn’t give the same privileges to Yemenis living in the KSA compared with the Taif Treaty. The Houthis refused the agreement, accusing the former regime of selling Yemeni territories for the sake of money, especially after the KSA started to build a border fence in 20132. The kingdom said that this fence aims at protecting its borders from the flow of immigrants or illegal infiltrators, as well as blocking any possible Al-Qaeda’s activities.

The Saudi motives behind such decisions 

The unannounced latest Saudi decisions to relocate Yemeni expatriates from south KSA have been met with variable reactions, from condemnation and astonishment, to recognizing the kingdom’s right to issue suitable decisions that serve its interests. The official Saudi and Yemeni bodies have not made any statements about this. However, the recent developments on ground and on the military level among the Yemen’s disputing parties may not be in favor of the KSA which leads the Arab Coalition in Yemen, in light of the lack of advancement or military decisiveness in the Yemeni fronts by the National Army, controlled by the Vice President, General Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar, and the Islah Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen, according to commentators.

By issuing such decisions, it seems that the KSA may have several motives behind making these changes. They can be summarized as follows:

-Expectations of a political settlement between the Yemeni parties in the coming months, in light of international and regional peace efforts aimed at stopping the war in Yemen, may lead to pressures pushing to end Hadi’s presidency and the start of a new transitional period with a new consensual president or perhaps a presidential council. Signing a political settlement agreement would mean halting the Yemeni War, and the expiration of President Hadi’s request to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the military intervention in Yemen to thwart the Houthi coup on the legitimacy. the possible military settlement also would mean the beginning of interim consensual legitimacy, in which the Houthis are a part. There are the increasing concerns from the Yemeni and regional parties who directly involve in the war about a possible Houthi coup against the possible settlement, and the eruption of a new round of the conflict among the Yemeni parties without military cover from the Arab Coalition, which will lack the legal basis to intervene in the likely conflict, amid uncertainty about receiving a new intervention request, due to reasons related to the constitutional powers of the new legitimacy which the Houthis will participate in its selection process. This would escalate the military confrontations(in case of Houthis coup against the settlement) as the Houthis may target the southern parts in the KSA across the borders they control from the Yemeni side. This justifies the frequent news about the Saudi desire to establish a safe area inside the Yemeni borders that separates the Houthis from the KSA’s borders.

-With the possible Houthi’s continuation of their war, at an escalating pace, against the Saudi southern parts after the possible political settlement, the Saudi concerns increase about the existence of Houthi “sleeping cells” in the southern Saudi areas, which may provide internal support in the war targeting such areas from abroad, especially that about one million Yemeni stay in there regions in a regular and irregular basis. This makes the process of identifying the Houthi sympathizers among this big number a difficult task.

-The motives may also include the Saudi authorities’ fear that of the Yemenis staying in the KSA, there are people who involve in spying activities, or providing intelligent information to the Houthis, or giving them the geographic coordinates for some important and strategic locations in Asir, Najran and Jizan. According to informed sources, the Yemeni expatriates in the southern parts of Saudi Arabia are always subjected to sudden security campaigns. This confirms the existence of real Saudi fears relevant to its geopolitical, security and military situation.

-The ongoing possibility of military confrontations with Iran in the waters of the Arabian Gulf increases the Saudi security sensitivity in its southern regions. In this context, It is more likely,, that one form of Iranian retaliation would be directed against Saudi Arabia through its “right-hand”, the Houthis. In spite of the decreasing possibility of a military action against Iran with the Biden administration’s ascension to power, the indecisiveness of Iran’s nuclear negotiations, and the mutual targeting of the commercial ships between Iran and their regional rivals have increased in a way that risks a military confrontation. If the mutual reactions between the parties continue at the same level that pushed the Israeli and British statements to an unprecedented sharp level towards Iran, as well as the Houthi involvement in targeting a Saudi commercial ship with a drone, the same way that targeted the Israeli ship “Mercer Street” which has fueled the crisis with Tehran. The Israeli-Iranian escalation pushed Tehran to escalate the situation in southern Lebanon through Hezbollah. Therefore, in any escalation with Iran, involving the KSA, the Iranian response would likely come through the Houthis.

The impact of the decisions on the general situation

Although the unannounced Saudi decision to relocate the Yemeni expatriates from southern Saudi Arabia, and evacuating them away from those areas supports security measures to address possible scenarios of Houthi aggression on these regions, the side effects of this decision, especially the economic and social impact inside Yemen, will undoubtedly benefit the Houthis. With the state of the Yemeni war, and the instability of the economic and political conditions inside Yemen, such decisions don’t constitute a problem for the official Saudi side, but their consequences are catastrophic for the Yemeni expatriates in those areas, and will transform the humanitarian and economic conditions from a difficult to a catastrophic level. This would increase famine and serious food insecurity at rates higher than the current rates.

The general situation may not seem safe for many Yemeni expatriates in the KSA, and their families inside Yemen who rely on their money transfers as their main income. This threatens their only remaining source of livelihood, especially that many Yemenis have not received their salary due to the liquidity crisis after the 2015 War in Yemen.

Those decisions may be exploited by the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen, to further incite against the Saudi measures. This has been noticed over the past few days, through their media outlets and satellite channels as well as the social media sites. Moreover, the Yemeni expatriates’ loss of their basic means of livelihood and the return of some of them to Yemen in light of the unstable conditions, especially the areas where the Houthis control and those with highest population density allow
the Houthis to attract more fighters to their ranks.

Through social media outlets, Some Yemenis demanded the activation the items of the 1934 Taif Treaty which gave the Yemeni Expatriates special privileges, on the economic, security and political levels, and facilitate the moves of Yemeni visitors and pilgrims3, as well as the privileges stipulated in the 2000- Border Demarcation Agreement.

Consequently, Although the decisions reflects the kingdom sovereignty on its territories, experts believe that it is important to delay such measures and exempting Yemeni expatriates from applying them till the disputing parties in Yemen reach a political solution, and the existence of relative economic stability in Yemen. Those measure could be reconsidered in the future, as the insistence of imposing them on more than one million Yemeni expatriates would contribute in creating a catastrophe which threatens their source of livelihood, especially in light of the lack of alternatives to moving to other Saudi cities, which may ultimately undermine the peace process in Yemen for which the international community is making intensive efforts. This explains why the Saudi official did not announce such measures.

Based Upon this background, the Yemeni government was supposed to intervene to discuss the Saudi security concerns in such exceptional circumstances, and look at joint measures regarding the Yemenis in the Southern Saudi parts. However, it seems that the Yemeni government does not care about the affairs of its citizens in the KSA. It proved not serious in discussing the matters regarding the Yemenis abroad on more than one occasion. It appears that the governmental indifference is a result of the personalization of issues, as the senior current Yemeni government officials believe that they would has no role in the political scene after any possible settlement.

Additionally, the Saudi security measures, which are likely an important indicator for an imminent political settlement in Yemen, and which may be taken as precautionary measures against in the face of any Hothi coup against the possible settlement, are associated with economical impact that could help the Houthis to make a coup against the settlement, and launching a new round of the conflict. This leads to going round and round in a circle. The security measures are necessary in case of any Houthi coup against the settlement, but simultaneously, they help them to implement such a coup.

The author of this report requested anonymity (The opinions expressed in the analysis do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of South24 News and Studies.)
Photo: Yemeni expatriates in Saudi Arabia (archive)