Ethiopia has repatriated more than 140,000 citizens from Saudi Arabia, with estimates from the foreign ministry that the number could reach “over 150,000”, in one of the biggest humanitarian airlifts in recent years.
The move comes after the Saudi government’s crackdown on migrant workers that sparked protests in the Gulf nation.
The number of Ethiopians who had been removed from Saudi was more than 140,000 on Thursday, but Mihiretab Mulugeta from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they are expecting at least 10,000 more workers to arrive in the coming days.
The Saudi government says the workers violated labour and immigration laws. Its move against migrants is meant to curb the number of foreign workers in the country.
The government granted a seven-month amnesty to undocumented immigrants so they could organise their own means of returning home.
After the amnesty period expired in November, clashes broke out between protesters refusing repatriation and Saudi police.
At least three demonstrators were killed in the violence and thousands more detained in what Human Rights Watch warned was a potential humanitarian disaster.
Many migrants, such as Ahmad Muhammad, accuse the Saudi government of mistreating them, and keeping them “for 5 or 6 days in the sun with no food or water”.
“The [Ethiopian] government has done nothing except assist in repatriating us,” Muhammad told Al Jazeera.
Migrants from different countries have also been deported. Sudan reported more than 10,000 nationals had been repatriated in recent weeks.