Ethiopian-Saudi tension exaggerated, Saudi officials say
By KHADIJA HABIB
The deadly incidents involving Ethiopian maids are exaggerated, resulting in false accusations and unnecessary panic among Saudi employers, law enforcement officials say.
The recent deaths of children allegedly at the hands of Ethiopian housemaids have created a furor among Saudis on Facebook and Twitter, but Jeddah police caution that the fear among Saudis is disproportionate to the actual crimes committed.
“Actually it is still on a very limited scale,” Jeddah police spokesman Nawwaf Al-Bouq told Arab News.
Al-Bouq said that judging from the comments seen on social media networks, one would think that this is a very wide phenomenon.
“We see too many of the messages posted on the social sites, and they are full of exaggeration,” he said. “We did look into many accusations, but a lot of them turned out to be inconsequential. I urge our fellow citizens to be more careful when accusing somebody of anything.”
Among the incidents was the alleged murder of Lamis Al-Salman, a 6-year-old Saudi girl two months ago and the death of a 10-year-old Syrian girl, identified as Israa, who was reportedly beaten and stabbed to death.
The incidents led to a temporary ban on issue of new visas for Ethiopian maids. The ban resulted in a minor diplomatic row when Ethiopia canceled 40,000 work visas for housemaids destined for Saudi Arabia and stopped sending laborers altogether. The work stoppage put an end — at least temporarily — to the 7,000 to 10,000 Ethiopian domestics arriving in the Kingdom each month.
Rihab Abu Rayyah, an activist, said on her Facebook page that that Ethiopia has 75 million inhabitants, 55 percent of whom are Muslim.
“Seventy-five million people can’t possibly be all murderers and hurtful,” she wrote. “Every society has the good and the bad. Actually the greatest number of dawa people who call people to Islam come from Ethiopia.”
But for every comment that attempts to point out the good deeds performed by Ethiopians, there are dozens more calling for their deportation.
Campaigns have emerged on Facebook and Twitter urging the authorities to carefully monitor and examine Ethiopian laborers and other foreigners who intend to work in the Kingdom. They demand immigration officials check prospective maids’ mental health to make sure they are fit for work. They also stressed the need that these foreigners be trained on housekeeping and Saudi culture.
One Twitter user said that Saudis are now so afraid of Ethiopian maids that they warn everybody not to bring them to work in Saudi Arabia. “Why does the Saudi society have to bear the brunt of maid trouble?” another Twitter user asked.
“The authorities have been slow to realize there was a problem here,” according to one tweet. “They had to wait until there were dozens of crimes. We hope now that they pay more attention, and, while at it, to check other nationalities in order to prevent more crimes.”
The postings have escalated following numerous incidents during the first week of Ramadan with Saudis abandoning as many as 30 to 50 Ethiopian maids daily at Riyadh shelters. About 200 Ethiopian maids arrived earlier this month at the Riyadh police shelter in Nafal district.