The consulate general of the Nepali embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has announced that growing numbers of expat workers are scrambling for a flight home.
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The Saudi kingdom relies heavily on Nepali and other expat workers, but recent revelations have shown mistreatment and mistrust of the expat community. Saudi Arabia is facing an exodus of departing expats. An estimated 300,000 have already left the country this year, according to the Ministry of Interior. A Riyadh-based investment firm expects 1.2 million foreign workers will leave Saudi Arabia in 2020 alone.
The outflow of expats is set to almost triple the 445,000 expats that left the country in 2019.
Like most countries, Saudi Arabia has suffered from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutdowns hit the local service and tourism sector heavily and the oil-dependent economy suffered from low crude prices. The pandemic has also meant blocking the millions of pilgrims who usually visit Saudi Arabia annually to make the Hajj.
Yet Saudi Arabia is emerging from the oil price slump with increased market share. For the first time since the 1980s the country will see its share of the global market increase, after the US shale gas industry suffered heavily in the last few months. Analysts expect an economic recovery, yet it appears many expats are feeling increasingly unwelcome in Saudi Arabia.
British newspaper the Telegraph has accused Saudi Arabia of locking up hundreds of African migrants in COVID-19 detention centers. The publication revealed photography by interned immigrants that showed horrible living conditions and starvation. The paper says migrants were “left to die” and are regularly beaten by guards.
The Saudi economy will need to reckon with the way the country has treated its expats during the COVID-19 crisis. As dependent as Saudi Arabia is on foreign workers, reports of mistreatment of expats continue to emerge. Approximately 27,000 Nepali expat workers have now filled the required forms to leave Saudi Arabia, when sufficient flights to Nepal return.
The news will come as another blow to Saudis eager to maintain their foreign workforce. Saudi publications have turned to positive stories about expat safety during COVID-19 in an apparent effort to placate local expats.
Unlike in Kuwait, Saudi business and government managers appear to be more aware of the economic difficulties the country could face without its foreign workforce.
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