Early this week, several Ethiopian workers gathered on the Manfuhah district in Riyadh, carrying knives, rocks and broken bottles
, threatening the police, pedestrians and motorists.
The clashes resulted in a Saudi and an Ethiopian being killed, leaving another 68 people injured. Additionlally, Jeddah’s Aziziah district also experienced clashes between Chadian and Ethiopian expatriates.
The refusal to keep Ethiopian maids also comes in the wake of several cases of Ethiopian housemaids allegedly using violence against the children of their employers and committing several crimes.
“I have hired maids from different nationalities but I should say Ethiopians are the most arrogant and stubborn ones,” says Arwa Al-Hilal, a working Saudi mother. “I did have two Ethiopian maids previously and both of them were too hard to handle and always spoke back to us, although we paid their wages on time.”
Mahmood Abu-Ahmed, a Saudi businessman, is firm on his decision of letting go of his Ethiopian maid, saying that the crime during the clashes pressed him to do so.
“I have always feared leaving my children under their care. After several dangerous crimes involving Ethiopian maids killing and hurting children of their sponsors, it has always bugged me.”
Ahmed said that his current Ethiopian maid was hired in an emergency as there wasn’t time to decide. “She has been with us for only two months.”
The Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs stated that over 160,000 Ethiopian women came to work in the kingdom early this year. The United Nations reports that tens of thousands more are migrated illegally.
“I hired my Ethiopian maid just five months back but most of my friends are suggesting that I get rid of her and hire one of a different nationality,” says Umm Abdullah, Saudi mother of six.
Umm Abdullah added that most of her time goes attending to her infant and she must leave the other children under the care of her maid.
“So far, I haven’t had any complaints but I’m afraid that influence from her other maid-friends can change her attitude,” she said. “My husband and I have been discussing this lately but have not decided if we should let her go yet.”
On the other hand, all legal and illegal Ethiopian maids prefer to leave and seek employment in other Gulf countries, fearing that the riots would cause even the good Saudi sponsor to change their minds and treatment toward the maids.
“Not all Ethiopian maids are criminals,” said Fatima, an Ethiopian maid working for a Syrian family in Jeddah. “Some of them have been with their Saudi sponsors for several years and are really trustworthy. It is not right to stereotype all Ethiopians as criminals and get rid of them.”
Fatima said that many Saudi families are firing their Ethiopian maids because of the riots in Riyadh, since they are considered dangerous and may revenge their employers.
“My aunt asked me to leave to my country too but I assured her that I’m not working with a Saudi family and that I feel safe with them,” Fatima said.
Last month the Ethiopian government imposed a six-month ban on its citizens from traveling to Saudi Arabia for work. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the conditions of Ethiopians working in Saudi Arabia, particularly domestic workers, had continued to get worse, according to reports.